How would you interact with God differently if you only had today what you had thanked him for yesterday?
That's the gist of a question my 13-year-old daughter, Madi, was asked by counselors to ponder during her month of camp this summer. As we caught up together at the end of her Kamp Kanakuk term in Branson, Mo., she said that question had really impacted her.
It really impacted me, too.
I know, I know: It's easy to start with "OK, so you are saying that if I don't thank God for my bad mood, or wrinkles, or the snarky comments of my teen. ..."
But once we get past the fun comes real reflection time. I'll approach this from a purely secular perspective. Simply put, most of us spend so much time focused on what's wrong that we don't see what's right and good and valuable in our lives.
I think about Frank Costanza (played by Jerry Stiller) on "Seinfeld." The father of George Costanza (Jason Alexander) notes that the alternative to Christmas that he invented, "Festivus," begins "with the airing of grievances!"
There is typically too much Frank in me, for one.
I'm not talking about those who are fatally ill, or losing their homes, or who have just had a loved one die. (Although I'm struck by the unimaginable grace I sometimes see in people undergoing such hardships.)
I'm talking about plain, old American life. When we whine about everything — the kids, the job, the housework, the 10 pounds gained, the 5 pounds lost in the wrong places, the boss, the spouse, not finding a dress for this or that event ANYWHERE, the charge at the car dealership for that repair, the neighbor's dog, one's own dog.
You name it, we complain about it.
When I was little and one of my brothers was told that we had ice cream for dessert, he dared to ask what kind. My father went ballistic. The whole "when we were kids we were just lucky to get ice cream; we didn't dare ask what kind of ice cream" type of response many of us who had parents who grew up in the Depression were used to hearing.
I'm not sure we took Dad too seriously at the time. But — my goodness — that became part of family lore.
Fast forward: I'm not suggesting that we're necessarily spoiled because we have lots of flavors of ice cream, but I do think my kids and I should be more grateful for them. Seriously. We also need to be more grateful even for the difficulties that give our lives texture, challenge and meaning.
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I know that. But as I ponder the question about only having today what we were thankful for yesterday, I see another facet to it. And that is the chance to shape our lives to live more purposefully. In other words, it reminds me to spend time thanking God for my children, my home, my fiancee and his children, my church and so on. But if I'm not willing to take time to thank God for, say, reality television or a Facebook page, maybe that's a pretty good indication those aren't things that should be taking up much time in my life.
Now that is something to ponder. And I think that realization is something to be thankful for each day — in the hope it will be with me every tomorrow.
Email Betsy Hart at firstname.lastname@example.org.