Every November for the past three years our family has made a gratitude tree. We cut out a tree trunk and every day we add to the tree taking red, yellow, orange, brown and green construction paper leaves to write down the things we are thankful for attaching them to the limbs. Last year, one of my boys was thankful for me. The other was thankful for snakes. I had a favorite child that day.
I love this simple exercise for practicing gratitude in a month where the craziness of the holidays starts to descend, heading into a season of the “gimmies”, where every magazine that arrives in the mailbox, and every commercial on TV, and every display at Target launches my boys into insistent begging. Our tree is easy, uncomplicated and requires very little crafting skill. Which makes it perfect for me.
Because the truth is, practicing gratitude is important, but it’s also hard. It’s a habit we have to learn, a muscle we have to exercise, one that atrophies far faster than we think. Unlike our quest for stuff, which feeds an appetite that almost immediately begins raging out of our control, gratitude is a slow and steady growth that takes time, attention and discipline.
Sometimes I find my paper leaves hard to fill. Don’t get my wrong. I am surrounded by a lot of goodness. But more and more lately, it feels like with the noticed goodness, there is a noticed difficulty as well. Maybe you’ve felt it too. Maybe it’s in family tensions or national unrest. Maybe it’s your health, or your child’s. Maybe it’s your job, or the one you wish you had. Maybe it’s the nagging concern you just can’t put yourself at ease over. Whatever it is, it’s the thing that’s muting your ability to give thanks, because for all there is to say “thank you” for, there is much more to intercede for, to hope for, to wait for.
Lately, gratitude feels heavy. It is whispered, it’s tentative, it’s more like a question than it is a statement.
Which, I’m coming to learn, is just fine.
Nearly every prayer we pray ends the same way, with the soft-spoken, habitual, “amen.” A word we utter so naturally and easily we hardly think about its purpose. But “amen” is more than just a period to our rambling thoughts and listed desires. It means, “so be it” or, “make it so.”
When we think of prayer as mostly just the asking part, the “make it so” fits nicely. Rounding off our, “I want, I need, I would like” prayers, it’s as good a directive to end on as any. They seem like the magic words God needs to hear to seal the deal.
But when our prayers of thanksgiving are faltering prayers, the idea of amen feels different. It’s not a period. It’s an ellipses, a trailing thought, an inconclusive idea, maybe a prayer in and of itself.
It is a prayer of gratitude, while also a prayer to feel that gratitude, when life appears complicated and layered.
Make it so.
It is a prayer for when we know we ought to be thankful, but worry has crowded our headspace.
Make it so.
It is a prayer for when we know we ought to profess our indebtedness, but fear has made us short sighted.
Make it so.
It is a prayer for when we know we ought to give thanks, but uncertainty has wrestled our appreciation to the ground, and silenced it in the face of our pressing anxiety.
Make it so.
And in those cases, I wonder if the “amen”, the “so be it”, is less for God, signaling an end to our monologue, and more for us—a plea to feel and demonstrate and believe what we have said we already feel, and demonstrate and believe? Lord, make it so.
In other words, in the seasons where our gratitude is diluted by distress and doubt, in the season where our thankfulness is tempered with misgivings and upheaval, we pray “make it so” in order to tune our hearts—and not demand God’s action. It is an invitation to take note of the good more than the bad, the blessing more than the curse, to not wait for the unsettled to be settled, nor ignore the wrongness in our midst, but to give thanks anyway.
What if “amen” was a call not for God to change things around us, but change things within us?
What if reciting “amen” was a way to align our hearts with the heart of God, while managing the hurt of mankind?
This Thanksgiving, I have much to be thankful for. I’m willing to bet we all do. But we live in complicated times. And even if we didn’t, our humanity alone makes things complicated. We are thankful, and yet fearful. We are gracious, and yet hesitant. We have so much to look back on in appreciation and yet, at times, looking forward feels daunting. And so, this Thanksgiving, it is my hope that we will learn to practice gratitude with a “make it so” to close our prayer. That we will fill up literal or figurative construction paper leaves with things that are true, and things we pray an “amen” after, to make ourselves feel more true in the face of conflicting emotions.
This coming week, don’t let the complications of life on earth keep your mouth shut. Don’t let a muddied world that in one day can elicit both unbridled hope and staggering pain, silence you.
Give thanks, take pause, and end with an amen. A “make it so” for your heart and for the world, paving way for promise and gratitude amid a world that screams otherwise.