Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Stuffing and turkey aside, I love the simplicity Thanksgiving breathes but also the gratitude that takes center stage for the weeks surrounding it. A holiday that combines being thankful, mouth watering food and my favorite people? It’s practically a no brainer.
But what happens when the leftovers have been eaten and the fall decor exchanged for Christmas? When a new year rolls in, resolutions are set and gyms are overflowing? Or after winter snow melts and gives way to tulip buds and the first robin sighting? Does gratitude anchor us after the holiday has long passed?
It’s easy to be thankful in most seasons. The well deserved raise at work, healthy bodies, growing families and the experience of a long awaited vacation make gratitude an easy default. But what happens when life feels heavy and hard to travel? When loneliness pings and loss feels dominate? When the job falls through or illness strikes? Gratitude can feel fake and forced at best. What about a season of autopilot? The rhythm of life settles in, coasting becomes the norm and complacency clouds out our gratitude.
I’m not naive to hard things. My passport has the stamps to prove it, just like yours probably does. I know the weight of hardship and all consuming hurt. Holidays can bring out the tender places and resurface our stories with twisted endings. Perhaps this year being thankful is the last thing you feel like subscribing to. Maybe being surrounded by family and friends with different stories than you feels cruel. Or maybe loneliness feels like it’s taking you out at the knees. Friend, I see you and I hear you. We can’t run from our stories and we can’t erase our feelings.
However, with my frequent flier miles to back me up, I know we can have both/and. We can have pain AND joy. We can have heavy AND light. We can have tears AND smiles. We can be broken AND whole. We can have suffering AND gratitude. In fact we need both. We can’t know one side of the coin without the other. Both draw on each other. This side of loss and hurt I feel far greater because my well of experience is deeper. I was broke open to experience life in the richest and fullest ways. Rejection, sadness and grief are amplified but so is joy, love and gratitude.
Gratitude is a posture. Joy is a choice. Thankfulness is a way of life. Let’s choose it every day regardless of what part of the story we are in. Let’s choose it all year long regardless of what holiday the calendar says it is. Let’s bravely choose both/and and feel the fullness of life as we experience each moment. Let’s place our joy in a place where no one, no thing or no storm can rob it from us.