Homily for Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 2017
The bedtime ritual at home goes like this. At 6:30 in the evening, we take the twins upstairs and brush teeth. Then we have bath time until 6:45. Then jammies and stories. And then we say our “gratefuls.” What are you grateful for today? As you might expect, the children’s answers run the gamut from the silly to the profound, but what you might not expect is that every night they turn the question back around on me. If I don’t answer, they will let me know it. “Daddy, what are you grateful for?”
Some days, something springs readily to my lips. I’m grateful for the time I got to spend with you, I’ll tell them. Or I’m grateful for getting to perform a baptism or for the yummy dinner mommy made. Other days, I open my mouth to speak and no words come out. My day flashes through my mind, and I realize I don’t remember my day well enough to find within it something I’m grateful for. So I mumble something incoherent which satisfies the kids, and then I sing the good night songs and put them to bed, each with three kisses and an extra kiss.
It is so easy to wander through our days. It is so easy to float vaguely from activity to activity, encounter to encounter, with little forethought or reflection. It is so easy to set the autopilot, sit back, and disengage. This has been a pattern for me during stressful, exhausting, or painful periods in my life. But after having lived through several of them, I would have to put a different verb on it. Not living, but merely existing. You wake up, you go to bed. A day happened in between but you can’t remember it. The day is like a child’s coloring page, handed to you finished after only one or two marks of crayon.
Practicing gratefulness is an antidote to this type of existing. At the end of the day, I know my kids are going to ask me, “Daddy, what are you grateful for?” And I really want to have an answer for them. But to have an answer, I need not to sleepwalk through the day. I need to engage every activity, every encounter, searching for that which fills me with gratitude.
On this day of Thanksgiving, I invite you to take on this practice, even if you don’t have a pair of three-year-olds asking the question at night. When you are bedding down, review your day. What are you grateful for?
I’d like to share with you an incomplete list of things that fill my heart with gratitude, just to get you started. Here goes:
- The way my son smiles when we roughhouse
- My daughter’s laugh, which sounds like water bubbling over rocks in a stream
- The love and support of my wonderful wife
- A house to live in that is also a home
- Work that challenges, humbles, and enlivens me
- People at church who inspire me
- Parents and in-laws who love their grandchildren with all their hearts
- Siblings and friends who love me for who I am
- Opportunities to serve others, to partner with them to make the world a better place
- New Star Wars movies every year!
- A passion for writing and the time to do it
- Apple pie and mashed potatoes, which I will be eating later today
- The growth my mind and heart are undergoing as I seek to expand my worldview
- Being one of God’s beloved children, which is the foundation of all that I am
That’s a sample of my list. I hope in the days and years to come that I always have something to say to my children when they ask me, “Daddy, what are you grateful for.” I hope you will begin answering that question for yourself so you don’t fall into the trap of merely existing instead of living. Start today on this day of thanks. What’s on your list?