At this Church we've been attending here in Canada there is an Octagenarian who sometimes preaches. And I must confess: The first time I heard him, he put me right to sleep and I cozily recalled all those naps I used to take growing up in sleepy CRC Churches. Those Sunday mornings when I'd scrape out all of my eye boogers during the loud post-sermon hymns.
But. Lately this guy has been growing on me. In kind of a sneaky way, like my boys' fingernails.
He surprised me today (because today in Canada is Thanksgiving Day) when he sermoned about being Grateful. Somehow he weaved in how awful it is to use a credit card and how you need to say "no" to your kids sometimes, but his main point was how important it is to live a life of gratitude. Not a real shocker on Thanksgiving Day.
And I was cynical because his mandates sounded more like pull-up-your-bootstraps gratitude: Even if you've been dealt a raw deal and everyone around you has more, be grateful for what you do have, as in "at least you have a face." A very Dutch kind of gratitude.
And I wasn't buying it. It sounded to me like a cheap way of assuaging our own desires when we don't have what we want. Something my rents tried desperately to teach me and my three siblings because we really had barely more than nothing when we were growing up. They would say things like, "Look! We have brown sugar to put on our rice! They don't have that in Africa!" And then we'd scowl at them and they would call us ungrateful.
Somehow being grateful for things that suck seems like an attempt to play a trick on our own brains. Or something akin to what coaches did at Penn State: What shower scene?
Faking it. It reeks of deception. And I can deceive a lot of people, but I've always struggled with deceiving myself.
I could try it now; watch this little exercise: I'm so grateful that I live 1500 miles away from my mom and my sister and my baby nephews and so many of my best friends. I'm so grateful that I don't have a high-paying job and that I'm still paying off my student loans. I'm so grateful that my body is aging at the same rate as gas prices are hiking in California. I'm so grateful that no one is remotely interested in publishing any of my writing. I'm so grateful that my almost-dead dog keeps pissing on my new carpet.
This sounds ridiculous at best. Horribly fake at worst.
But then this pastor told a story about his father-in-law who had lived a tough life (poverty, wars, horrible illnesses, the deaths of two of his own children and then his spouse of 60 years, etc. etc.) and on his deathbed at 98 years old was asked if he was looking forward to heaven. And I was waiting for this ancient professor of God's truth to finish the story with "Yes! I can't wait to be with Jesus! And sing hymns with the angels and carry a harp and prance around on clouds like a Care Bear."
But instead the dying man responded, "Leven is zo zoet," in English: "Life is so sweet."
And in my soul, this comment resounded and banged on the edges of my heart in a way that only stories from my ancestors can.
Then I looked at this picture that I always have on my desk (though I don't recall the event). It captures me as a child being held by my Grandfather. This is a man who created a divot in a wooden bench in his Church with his wedding ring because he sat in the same place for 50 years.
And I believe that my pose captures the questions of youth, perhaps even the fear and insecurity and the displeasure of youth. And I see in his face, gratitude (and a big nose).
In this life I do not have all that I want. No, in this life I am not without trials and struggles and many things that suck ass. In this life I do not have people I love at my disposal. I do not have the dream house I desire, or the well-behaved children I desire or the flawless skin or LV bag or Hunter boots or kick-ass, perfectly healthy bod or peaceful sleep at night or a plethora of vacations ahead or a smaller nose...
But, still, I agree with the dying man: There is much sweetness in this life.
Life is so sweet.
And I wouldn't even recognize an ounce of all the sweetness if I hadn't tasted the sour.
And in this posture of gratitude I wish you all a joyous Thanksgiving Day.
May you find sweetness in the life-giving end of gratitude instead of the life-sucking realm of desiring more.