by Julia Seymour—
Climbing the stairs at bedtime the night before Reformation Sunday, I smelled something suspicious. I followed the scent back down to discover that a toilet had backed up and flooded a significant portion of the basement. Wading into the mess, I shut off the water and wondered how much it might cost to call a plumber at 9 p.m. on a Saturday.
The plumber came and earned his $300. But I couldn’t leave cleaning up until after church the next day. Did I mention I was planning to host a dinner party Sunday evening? I made a late-night run for extra bleach and paper towels.
As I walked through the nearly empty store, I murmured a litany to myself. “Thank you, God, that we had the money for a plumber. Thank you, God, that everything still works. Thank you, God, that a store nearby is open and I can get what I need.”
I repeated these thanks as I paid for my purchases, drove home, mopped up, started laundry and sucked the water out of the carpet with a wet/dry vac.
Finally, as I tried to get a few hours of sleep before I had to preach the next morning, I calmed my heart and stretched my sore muscles while murmuring another litany. “God, thank you for the gift of good sleep. Thank you for giving me patience. Thank you for guiding my words tomorrow.”
Let me be clear: The clogged drain was horrible. Having to clean up late into the night, knowing my alarm would go off at 5:30 a.m., was frustrating. That this happened while my husband was deployed, and while we were still new to our house, was exasperating. Being grateful did not change the circumstances, but it did change how I responded to the circumstances.
By focusing on what I could be thankful for, I found that my jaw remained relaxed instead of clenched, which can make it hard to sleep. Focusing on being thankful helped me remember to drink extra water before bed, which kept me from being dehydrated from sweat and tears. Focusing on being grateful made it easier to go to sleep and easier to wake up in the morning.
Putting in the effort to be thankful in the middle of a stinky situation was not just about giving thanks at all times. Praising God in the middle of this minor adversity affected my future. It made the next morning go more smoothly, which led to a fun evening the next night. All these things moved me forward into a good week.
A grateful heart for God’s steadfast love sets us up to be able to perceive God’s enduring grace. Being grateful in the present guides us to prepare for the future, creates memories and sets our prayers on God’s promises. These three things happen in big and small ways, and they will look different in each of our lives.
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE
Often, when we take stock of what we presently have, we see the spaces for what we need and what we want. Stores, websites and even family members encourage us to keep wish lists and make a point to get the latest and greatest. In a culture that prioritizes acquisitions, it is difficult to be satisfied with enough. Truthfully, most of us have more than enough.
The problem is not necessarily having things or even getting new things. The problem is the rate at which we are encouraged to get more and to consider still-functional items obsolete. This cycle of expected and pressured acquisition thwarts our ability to be grateful for what we have. The push to acquire more and more not only challenges our ability to save for the future, but also impacts our ability to help our neighbor. If I have to spend my money making sure I have the latest thing now (putting away a little to be sure I will have that in the future too), I am less likely to help out someone nearby or far away.
A sense of gratitude helps me to be aware of the abundance in my life. If I work on being thankful for what I have and seeing it as more than enough, I am more likely to resist the siren song of commercialism. Thus, I will have more assets of all kinds for my future and to help those around me. An attitude of gratitude helps us prepare for the time ahead.
The Rev. Julia Seymour serves Big Timber Lutheran Church in Big Timber, Montana. She enjoys her flannel-and-denim-clad life with her husband, Rob, their two children, Daniel and Victoria, a dog and a rabbit.
This article is excerpted from the November 2020 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.
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