My 4-year-old and I were at the end of a series of errands. I had hinted that we might get a treat and snuck a Kinder Surprise Egg into our haul at the grocery store. As we were driving home, I handed it to him, much to his delight. After a few minutes, though, he began to cry; the toy inside was not something he wanted or was interested in. His tears soon turned to angry proclamations.
Once home, I reminded him that the Kinder Egg was a treat, a gift, and maybe instead of complaining, he could say thank you.
With tears still wet on his little cheeks, he climbed into my lap and said, “Thank you, momma, I’m only crying because I’m so happy about it. I cry when I get excited!”
Well, we both knew that wasn’t true.
But it did reveal a bigger truth to me. I was asking him to be thankful for something he wasn’t actually thankful for. So, we talked more about it, and I tried to say, very clearly, that it is okay for him to not be excited about the toy, it’s okay for him to not like it. I don’t want him to feel like he can’t express when he’s not happy about something. But, I told him, he can still be thankful that I tried to do something kind for him.
I want him to learn to notice things to be thankful for. I want him to notice and say thanks when someone gives him a gift, even if the gift itself isn’t what he would choose.
To neglect thankfulness has the potential to turn us into entitled, critical grumps. When we look for reasons to give thanks — when we search for what’s sometimes hidden, buried under layers of disappointment or resentment or downright pain — we open ourselves more and more to the potential of joy.
But. That doesn’t mean that we are asked to give thanks for everything.
When we’re instructed in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to “give thanks in all circumstances” we’re not being told to give thanks FOR all circumstances. There is a difference, and I think it’s significant.
To give thanks in all circumstances is to notice where new life is sprouting, where hints of spring are breaking through a frozen ground. It’s to sift through the ashes to see what remains, what will rise up. It’s the audacious act of claiming there is still hope where there seems to be none. It’s stubbornly clinging to the promise that life comes from death, that this is not the end of the Story.
I am watching my friends live this out so beautifully as they journey through cancer with their young daughter. They regularly choose to find reasons to give thanks in what is the darkest season of their lives at this point.
But they aren’t giving thanks FOR their daughter’s cancer.