Walking the Tightrope of Gratitude

Thirty-three years ago, I traveled to San Antonio to celebrate my first Thanksgiving away from my family. The attraction? Fort Sam Houston and a young PFC named Lisa who was three weeks shy of a name change for her and a life change for both of us. We made it to Galveston, Texas where we saw the sea waves crashing and ate our fill at the Holiday Inn’s all-you-could-eat buffet. Put it on my dad’s credit card, not thinking he might want an explanation of a pre-nuptial hotel charge. I suppose Shoney’s would have required less explanation. Up to that day, I had never celebrated a Thanksgiving Day marked by so much – love, hope, joy, and anticipation – and so little – money, certainty, security, and peace. Looking back, the balancing act between hope and fear, abundance and lack, joy and anxiety could not have been more stark. That tension, held in tow by large amounts of love, wonder, and trust in God and each other, proved thank-worthy in and of itself. Still does. Three-plus decades, two sons, three grandgirls, seven churches, and four states later, we are abundantly blessed and thankful. We just have different things to be concerned about and new blurry futures waiting to find focus.

I’m learning more of how most things live in tension with each other. Not talking about people here – that’s another article for another day – but life’s forces that compete as much as they complete. I wrote about a pair of these in a Thanksgiving sermon many years ago. I borrowed the image of a tightrope in a series called “Life is a Circus.” Here’s the quote:

Life is a Circus Lesson Number 8 – Walking the tightrope of gratitude is not easy. There are two ways to fall off – to one side smugness and the other side resentfulness. Constant comparison is the culprit of both. Either way it is a long fall. Understanding, experiencing, and extending grace can keep you centered on that rope.

I stand by that. We cheat ourselves when we succumb to the need to compare our lot to others, no matter how we reckon the score. There will always be folks with more or less than we have in every way. Money, talent, looks, health, opportunity … you name it, it’s true. If we think we are somehow more entitled or worthy in and of ourselves, we lose. And if we feel snubbed, we lose the ability to glory in our own blessings, and those of others. Flip a coin – you’re a loser either way.

So how can we win? Maybe by remembering that every good and perfect gift is from above. Be happy for what you have. Don’t get pulled too far in either of those directions – they are deadly. But balance is life-giving. Gratefulness makes the heart sing and the heartbreaks hurt less and not last as long. Being aware of the amazing grace heaped on us can help us pour that grace out on ourselves and others. And that is the way God wants his children to be. Who among us is not pleased when our kids are appreciative, generous, gracious, and keenly aware of blessing? I know I am. Every indication is that God reacts the same way.

As a pastor, I know the life lots of my people. They are all over the place. But nowhere from which one cannot maintain a grateful stance, securely poised on that perilous rope. “O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be.” May that grace be the sweetest, most filling thing you taste this Thanksgiving. Stand tall. Eat up.