Learning Not to Be Thankful

Learning Not to Be Thankful

By Jane Tawel

November 25, 2019

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I will do my yearly duty this week and be thankful while consuming too much food while sitting around in an over-warm dining room, swapping surface stories and easily paid-for thoughts and prayers. And I am as thankful as anyone, truly I am, for all the people and stuff I have been given.  But this year, I can’t help but feel the weight of that last thing I said, “given”.  It is after all the season of Thanks – “giving”.  The thing is, that most of us living in Entitlement, forget that all that we have to be thankful for, has been given to us.  Many of us believe we have been given these things by a God.  Most of us come to believe we have been given these things by our own hard work, smarts, dreaming and planning, and “gumption”.  Far fewer of us, would admit that much of what we have is ours through pure luck, the luck of the draw, the luck of where and when and to whom we were born, the luck of our skin-color or gender or school-grades.  After all, how can one be thankful for something one does not really deserve any more than the next guy or gal?  And it is the next guy and gal that make me queasy and eating not just pumpkin but humble pie. It is the next human being, one seat over, that makes me determined to be a bit more un-thankful this year.

 

 

In my particular country, we may still have our sense of tribe and team left, but many of us no longer have any sense of community. Oh, we think we do, but most of us have chosen a community to shore up who we are and give us satisfaction without guilt in all we have.  The causes of our lack of true community are many and I will leave you to find those among the sociologists, psychologists, and economists.  I will also leave to others the stories that I, too, could share about all the things I did last week or yesterday to help out the homeless people on the street-corner by the Starbucks I pass as I drive my Prius to work; or the students’ notes I packed away, telling me how great I was for believing in them and teaching them; or I could mention my hauling of garbage at the charity I volunteer at, or the garbage I pick up from the gutters where people’s gardeners blow it with their leaf-blowers. I could mention the churches and sports teams I have cheered for.  I could tell you how proud I am of my children and how grateful I feel to still have them and my husband around my table this Thanksgiving.  And you and I would get a bit teary and feel such a sense of thankfulness about it all. But in the end, it is all about what I have, isn’t it?  What I have done, haven’t I? Who I am blessed to be, aren’t I?

 

So, I have to ask myself, “Why me?”.  Why do I have all this and as some might believe, have heaven besides? Why aren’t the bombs falling on my neighborhood?  Why didn’t I get caught and put in prison for what I did?  Why did my kid survive that drive, that illness, that boyfriend?  Why did my health insurance pay for that or my house survive the earthquake or fire or tornado?  Why is my tap-water drinkable and why do I have so much food that I need a refrigerator and garbage disposal?  Why didn’t I get that? Why did I get that?  Why? Why me? And more importantly, why not him?  Why not her? Why not them?

Everett, Washington / USA - 10/27/2018 - Homeless person in the doorway of a church

“Everett, Washington / USA – 10/27/2018 – Homeless person in the doorway of a church” by ShebleyCL is licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

 

Am I thankful? Yes, but with a caveat.  I am thankful but I am also indebted.  When someone or Someone gives you a gift, you are rightfully thankful, but if you are at all a good person, you also feel that you owe them something. A gift means at minimum you owe someone a thank-you note; at the most, you may owe someone your very life.  Most gifts fall in the between note and life range. But always, a gift given, means a Thanks-given.

 

Sometimes you don’t like the feeling of owing someone for something they give you; it may make you feel uncomfortable.  Sometimes, like when one of my children gives me an extravagant gift of love, I feel overwhelmed with a sense of not just gratitude, but unworthiness – how could someone love me that much? There is a type of happiness in being thankful for something that makes some people not only grateful, but determined to be the person who deserves that someone or something.

 

 

Whether you believe in a Good God or Good Luck and Good Fortune, or you chalk up what you have to Good Genes and Good Heredity, or a Good Work-ethic and a Good Brain; who you are and what you have is because of something or someone outside of yourself, beyond your own capabilities, something or Someone that is “Good”.  There is an old proverb that says, “to whom much is given, much is required”.  Good things happen to good people, but they also happen to bad people.  The reverse is true as well, bad things do happen to good people, and we can read all the books and think all the thoughts on the subject and never figure out why.  The only thing we possibly can figure out, is how to stop being merely thankful, and start being liable, responsible, humbled.

 

I can not be truly thankful this year when I think about Carl, and Donny, and Gloria, and the two men whose names I confess I have forgotten, who sit on the bench next to their purloined shopping carts, full of things they are grateful to have.  I worry about my own wonderful children but I wake up at night obsessed with helpless worry over the children in Syria and Guatemala and Ethiopia. I feel a righteous anger against the rulers and the makers and shakers of my own country who immoral-ize others in their quest to immortalize themselves, but I am new to this game of helpless inadequacy of fighting against the powers that be, and I wonder how people in other parts of the world can go on believing, hoping, praying that things might someday change.  And I just can not be thankful, give thanks, feel gratitude, when I know I do not deserve any of the many things and people that I have been given.  Gifts are not deserved. Awards may be deserved, salaries may be deserved, justice may be deserved – but then again, they may not. Sometimes I have been just as grateful for NOT getting what I deserve, as I am grateful for getting what I think I deserve.

 

Given. Given. Give-in. Yes, I give-in. I give-up.  I am so helplessly thankful and grateful and so I give-up feeling I have to hoard it, keep it, own it, praise it, accept it all for the way it is.  No, I am thanks-Giving. I refuse to accept myself as somehow owed all the gifts I have been given – randomly, luckily, blessedly, however you want to call it. I am thankful for one thing this year.  I am humbly thankful that I have one more day left to not be thankful, but to pay what I owe. I confess that I am so weary of the god some people believe in – a god to whom I owe nothing.  I want a God that I owe much to, a God that I owe everything I have, everything I am, everyone I love. I am weary of feeling that I do not owe anything to the rest of the people in my nation, my city, my neighborhood. There but for the grace of God. There but for the good luck and good genes I lucked out with.  There but for my skin-color, or my birthplace, or my skill-set. I  want to believe that I owe those with so much less, something it costs me to give.  I owe those people who have no one,  I owe them my neighborliness, my love, my remembering their name at the very least. And most of all, I owe it to myself to learn how to truly share and sincerely, pro-actively care.

 

I owe the world my prayers,

the Earth my care,

and those who might scare me, I owe it to dare

to give and to live as if all that I own,

is not mine alone, but is theirs.

 

I have worked hard to learn to let go of things that cause me to be out of alignment with gratitude.  That is a lesson I will continue to teach myself.  But this week, as we put a price and a time-limit on Thanksgiving, I will try to teach myself how not to be thankful. I will try to understand how I am part of a community that has so little, has lost so much, and has far fewer things and people in their lives to be thankful for than I do.  I will learn not to feel thankful, but to feel a deeper sense of what I owe it to others to pay forward, to share, to give-back, to give-up, to give-in.  I will not just thank my God, I will question, “Why?”  “Why me?  Why not them?” I will not just thank my lucky stars, I will look at the stars and see the same bright lights up there that a hungry child sees tonight, and ask “Why?” I will lock my house door, and pray on my knees for those who go to bed in terror tonight. I will hug my child, and cry for those whose children did not live to see this day.  I will finish my pie and ask, “Why did I get such a big slice of Fortune’s pie-chart, when someone else got crumbs”? And I won’t find any answers to my questions of “Why”, but I might find not only a more heartfelt sense of thankfulness, but a profound paradigm-shifting realization of unworthiness. And while thankfulness can change your heart, knowing you are unworthy can change your soul

 

A person who doesn’t deserve a gift, but gets one any way, is a truly grateful, indebted human being.  And that is what grace is. That is where hope is found. That is what makes humans just a little lower than angels. Being unworthy, and being alive one more day to know it and do something about it, to give more to others out of all that I have been given; that is what I am thankful for this season. I am trying to learn to not be thankful, but to be worthy.

 

Happy Thanks-for-Giving.

 

Thank You

“Thank You” by James Wickenden is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

 

Me, Myself, and I – Not

Me, Myself, and I – Not

by Jane Tawel

November 22, 2017

 

 

Gordon and I are re-watching the television series, “Psyche”.  We love it.  In the last episode, Shawn insisted that he was bringing back the use of “Not!” at the end of statements to indicate that he really meant the opposite. This grammatical conceit is used as in my saying this morning, “I am going to get the house completely cleaned in the next hour -NOT!” Gus assured Shawn, that bringing back “not”,  would not be happening. And this episode aired in 2008. Fast forward to 2017, and here I am not so much insisting that I am bringing phrases like “not”, and “cool” and “psyche-out” and “radical” and “whatever” back, as much as I have never let them go.

 

Sometimes in moments of depression and doubt, or insecurity springing up as a downer from the high ride of pride, I am reminded that according to what I say I believe, it is not supposed to be “about me” at all.  I am teaching grammar again to students, and I am a stickler for the correct use of “I” as subject and “me” as object.  But as a wannabe Jesus follower, the truth is, I am at the best of what I was created to be when I allow myself to be the object being acted upon. It is when I start getting lost in the idea that it is “I” who controls or “I” who is right as in “right-eous”, that I end up feeling most displaced and disgruntled and depressed.

Thankfully in English, we write “I” small — only one little letter. It should make it easier to replace it with something longer, like the eternal word, Yahweh or Jehovah or Messiah.  If I would only take “I” out of my life sentences, then there could be only “He”.  And then those “life sentences” would not be an imprisonment in the egotistical-hopelessness I so often wallow in, but a “Life-sentence” of being dead to self, but alive in Christ. When I was in high school, we were asked to choose a “life verse”. I should have picked something that promised me financial blessings and a guardian angel to tote around, but instead I chose Galatians 2:20:  “For I am crucified with Christ, and yet I live.  Yet, not I but Christ lives in me; and the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me”. Notice that all the “I”s in this verse are preceded or followed by “nots”. Even the positive actions have to do with dying to my–self.

Now don’t even get me started on the abuse of people’s use of the word “myself”.  I think people mistake it for a fancier grammatical form of “I”, but folks, I am here as a grammar guru to tell you, It  ain’t that.  However, in my life verse, Paul, the author, could have correctly said, “Yet, not I, myself, but Christ lives in me”. There we have it.  The unholy trinity of me, myself and I,  must give way to the Holy Trinity, of I crucified in Christ, God working in me, and the Holy Spirit in my–Self.

Eugene Petersen has been a big help during these my days of Weltschmurz.  He writes in A Long Obedience in The Same Direction  of perseverance:

We survive in the way of faith not because we have extraordinary stamina but because God is righteous, because God sticks with us.  Christian discipleship is a process of paying more and more attention to God’s righteousness and less and less attention to our own; finding the meaning of our lives not by probing our moods and motives and morals but by believing in God’s will and purposes; making a map of the faithfulness of God, not charting the rise and fall of our enthusiasms.  It is out of such a reality that we acquire perseverance.(133)

Petersen goes on to interpret Hebrews 12: 1,2 this way: “Strip down, start running– and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in.  Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed–that exhilarating finish in and with God–he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.”

I love the chastisingly ironic, hilarious way that Petersen interprets this, when he calls me out for my ridiculous complaints and whines about myself.  Petersen mocks my taking myself so seriously when he says that The Christ “put up with anything” and then lists first the cross, then shame, and finally “whatever” –showing my comparison of my “sufferings” to The Christ’s sufferings as  my little ridiculous “whatevers”.  Petersen clues right in to the fact that not only am I not taking up the literal cross of Christ, but I have somehow magnified my petty problems, insecurities and complaints to the level of the things that Jesus “put up with”. Jesus might well respond, “Whatever!”.

Perhaps I am wrong to correct my students if they use the word “me” as the subject in a sentence where God is the compound subject matter.  God and “me” can do much, much more together, than God and “I”. The life that I now live, I must live by the faith of, in, and through the Son of God.  It is time we went back to memorizing prepositions. Oh, to understand the words of St. Francis, when He prays that Christ will live out every prepositional phrase in, through, above, below, around, before, behind and within Francis’ life.  You see, Students, prepositions can never be followed by a subject like “I” but only by a direct object, like me.  And God will never insist on removing me from the subject matter of my own life, but will always offer to act in and through me as the direct object of His loving grace-filled prepositional will.

 

Speaking of Language Arts, though –Oh, those Germans — they do have the best words for things. God’s Word tells us that when we are approaching a time of Thanksgiving, as we are this week, but we instead feel ” Weltschmurz” or weary of the world, then we should cry out: “Inner Schweinehund!”  Inner Schweinehund is that little voice that tells you to get up off the couch, you selfish pig-hound (so much more motivating than couch potato) and do something, go running. Inner Schweinehund is just super fun to say.

Speaking of my beloved son, Gordon is in a “boot”, complete with crutches,  for a couple months, after having fractured his foot. A boot is not as cool as a cast, and I suspect they do it for profit margin — just sayin’. I might sign the black boot  in neon sharpie anyway, something, like: “Your Dad and I tried to warn you, Love, Mom”. It is a long process of healing, and for a nineteen year old, it really cramps his style (and his foot, his shoulder, his leg, his arms) — no driving, no long showers, no bike riding. So he, like so many of us in tough situations brought on by our own choices, begin to wonder, well really, who am I and what am I good for? At my age, it seems like every single day and definitely every single night,  I wonder, who am I and what am I good for?  But perhaps more frighteningly, when I wake up in the dead watches of the night, or return from the funeral of a young person, or watch people  morally implode, but mostly when I find myself  looking back and sideways and forward at the choices I have made and still make,  I more often wonder, who is God and what is He good for? When I get focused on me, myself, and I, I am content and at peace-NOT! When I lose focus on God The Father, God The Son, and God The Holy Spirit, then I am lost in the subjective subject of I and I alone. If I keep God as the Subject who acts even when I sleep then even, if not perfected, I  persevere. And I am assured in God’s promises, that perseverance is the long-game, the marathon, the way to faith, hope, love, and joy .

So, for Gordie and me, I recently pulled up the attached video of the Hoytes: Vater and Sohn —  and was reminded that I am not and have never, ever been the dad running a marathon  but I am always and  have always been the son who is in the wheel chair. And when I listen to this song and see the hands, and thighs, and back muscles of this father straining to push his son to the finish line, I weep, because I can see how helpless I am in life’s metaphoric wheelchair, unless I ask my Father to run the race for and in me. In this video, as in life, if I crucify myself, then the Great “I Am” can enable me to run any race this world has to offer. If I make myself the direct object of The Father’s love, then He can push me and pull me through – Whatever. It is when I see and follow the Savior whose nail-scared hands, and thighs, and back muscles pushed all of us to the Finish Line, that I have the perseverance to keep living goodness, and the experience promised peace that passes all understanding. I just need to remember that every day is a shot at winning a new Iron Woman competition, and every day, the starting line is redrawn. So I must moment by moment  ask Jesus to crucify “I”, and live in “me” and help me persevere with joy derived from His strength pushing me through in the Great Race of Life. In the video of the Hoyts’ race, look at the absolute joy on the son’s face as he crosses the finish line. That is what all those who crucify me, myself and I will some day experience when they come before the Throne, the joy of hearing from a God who did it All and pushed us through Life’s Race– saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come on across your life’s finish line and receive the crown of thorns turned to a crown of Olympic Gold”.

The only reason I have ever crossed any literal or metaphoric finish line, has nothing to do with “I”, but because “me” is the direct object of God’s movement through and love in and for the world.  So, German language, take a back seat to this English teacher because Me am totally psyched out by the radical and cool love of my Daddy, Yahweh. And I say to you my silly Weltschmurz – Whatever!

I…. Not.  God…Yep-erroo!   That is how me became thankful to see some of my own handicaps today. The opposite of  “I” in God, is not “I-Not”, but You-Yes acting in me – Yes!”  That is who I am when I am best, crucified with Christ yet living powerfully and free. Because that is who God is when He is working in and through me – a good, good Daddy. That is the Thanks – giving of perseverance, the Less of me and the Yes of Christ. In German, this wholeness, and peacefulness is “ganz und friedlich”. In Hebrew, it is shalom.  In English, well, let’s just say peace in and Peace Out!

Psalm 136: 1  “Give thanks to The Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever”.

Team Hoyt and the song: “I Know My Redeemer Lives”  :

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