I challenge you to contemplate something for the next few moments:
How would your life be different if you considered everything that happened to you – every situation or experience or person or, yes, even problem that came your way – as a gift? As something at least somewhat unexpected, wholly unearned and undeserved?
What would change about the way you carried yourself throughout your day-in-day-out routine? If you disciplined yourself to receive each question, each concern, each dilemma with a sense of wonder, of excitement at all the possibilities that lay in each moment, how would your day-in-day-out existence be transformed?
Every long checkout line.
Every opportunity to help someone with directions.
Every bug-eyed kid peering at you over the back of the restaurant booth.
Every Facebook comment.
Every neighborhood dispute.
Every first episode of a new Netflix series.
Every piece of music.
Every troubling news story.
Every parent-teacher conference when you suspect the report will be less than stellar.
Every rough day on the job.
Every unexpected great day on the job.
To see all these things as gifts, to receive each little thing as groundwork for an utterly unique future – what would that do to your spirit? To your mood?
More importantly, what would become of the way you interacted with others? With your kids? Your spouse? Your parents and relatives? Your neighbors and coworkers?
I know, I know. It’s a shamelessly idealistic exercise, especially when we think about all the bad experiences that drift our way, sometimes daily. But all around us right now we can observe the trappings of the holiday season – a season marked by gift-giving. And I know full well by now that not every gift I’ll receive this season is going to be enjoyable. From a friend, I’ll get a book I have no interest in reading. From a family member, I’ll get a shirt that is frightfully out-of-style, which I’ll have to slog to the mall in order to return. I’ll open the package from that relative who lives far away and it will be just as I suspected, another dog-ugly tie I can wear nowhere. (I don’t even wear ties!)
And yet, even in these disappointments, if I’m willing to look for it, I can find the potential for gladness and intimacy. As Frederick Buechner put it so well in his memoir Now and Then, “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”
As a pastor, I talk often about the concepts of grace, not to mention the concepts of forgiveness and gratitude. In Greek, the word for grace is charis, which means, “gift.” The word for forgiveness is apheses, which literally means, “release from bondage.” And the word for gratitude is eucharistia, “thankfulness.” Each word carries with it an air of unexpectedness – of hopeful surprise. Each word signals the opening of possibilities.
So, what would happen if everything was charis? Grace. A gift.
In everything we do, from going over the family budget, to keeping the house relatively clean, to disciplining our children, what if we looked carefully for the opportunities to issue apheses, a release from bondage, or remission of a penalty?
In this volatile day and age, where quiet mornings too soon give way to stressful days, where Congress can’t agree and we can’t agree on whether or not Congress should agree, where the simple, childlike joy of the holiday season is swallowed up by the stress of sufficiently calendaring the holiday season activities… Well, it seems to me there are really only two kinds of people, and it isn’t the happy and the sad, and it isn’t the kind and the mean.
It’s the thankful and the dissatisfied.
If only for a day, or perhaps for the rest of this year, or as a resolution going into 2020, what if you chose eucharistia – to be thankful in all things?