I would have despaired had I not believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for and confidently expect the Lord...
-Psalm 37:13-14 (AMP)
Late February in the Mid-Atlantic can be a hard time to be thankful. The weather is neurotic and lacking sound judgment. The holiday season is firmly in the rearview, but the cold and dark lingers. Teachers feel the slog of the long stretch toward the end of the year, kids get antsy from being indoors too much, and social connection can be hard to get motivated for. And now, add two years of pandemic living that feels like it may finally be receding -- but if it is, it's hard to know what emerging from it even looks like.
Oh, and then Christians be all like, "You know what? We should start the season of lent right about now! It'll be all about constantly reminding ourselves of our frailty and neediness, and emphasizing the self-denial element of our discipleship with Jesus."
So while you're trying to just hang on through the last month of winter, you're supposed to stop eating chocolate, too. Come. On.
But today isn't about Lent starting next week. It's about leaning into gratitude. Despite how familiar the concept is, learning to recognize and receive God's goodness all around is a profound way to alter one's perspective. And interestingly, our life circumstances are not the deciding factor for whether we can learn this practice or not. It isn't about our situations nearly as much as our trust that God's goodness is within reach.
Sometimes gratitude emerges when we shift expectations, like St. Francis of Assisi encouraged:
"Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall enjoy everything."
Our expectations can become unrealistic and unattainable. If we expect that life should be perfect or pain free, we aren't able to enjoy the little gifts of God's goodness that change our perspective in hard moments. We breeze right over the refreshing gift of clean water, or the fact that a friend is only a text away, or how God offers us the beauty of a blinding white sycamore trunk in the winter woods to enjoy without paying a cent. Expecting nothing, enjoying everything. Sounds good.
Yet I can't help but think the opposite attitude is really what many of us need these days (no offense, Francis. I love your work).
Perhaps for many of us, our low expectations are exactly why we struggle to live with gratitude and notice the gifts around us. Perhaps we expect that life will be painful and depressing and isolating these days, or that people will be disconnected or finances will be tight, or that our world will just continue to be messed up. Perhaps the last two years, combined with the late winter, have made hopefulness and joy feel foolish. They've made beauty feel irrelevant or indulgent. Pain and disappointment has dulled our sensitivity to God's goodness and our memories of God's faithfulness through the years. What if we started expecting once again?
I've tried to reclaim how beautiful life is this winter, and one of the ways is by raising my expectations. I've tried to expect that Jesus is active in my life and the world around around me, and that beauty is always available to receive and to share. I've witnessed some great art that has brought me to tears. I've had conversations that reminded me that God's design for community is really extraordinary. I've made mistakes and experienced such grace from God and people. I've sat in wonder watching birds, reading a poem, looking out the window with Jesus, and sharing coffee with friends. God's goodness is not simply available once we leave this world. I'm convinced we will see it "in the land of the living"... even if we feel pre-conditioned to despair or cynicism. When I'm expecting God's goodness to be seen, I can't go an hour without noticing it in some way.
Of course, there are plenty of the other days, too (Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner). But I'm trying to lean toward Jesus, expecting goodness to pop up. And it's making me thankful today. Join me?
Jesus, tune my heart, eyes, and ears to see your goodness all around me today.