Friday, November 25, 2011

Overcoming the 'Thanks, But Gimme' Syndrome

When I was growing up, this transition between Thanksgiving and Christmas was an easy mental leap that I made every year without much reflexion. When the Montgomery Ward Christmas Wish Book came in the mail sometime in early November, I'd thumb through it, noticing all the nice Stuff I'd like to have. And then the week after Thanksgiving, I'd throw myself down on the living room floor, open to the toy section of the book and start making a list. My mother was very patient when I'd show it to her while she busied around the kitchen. "We'll see" was always her response.

Not such a clod that I didn't recognize skepticism when I saw it, I'd look at the list again, study the catalog some more, and decide which of those items I could probably do without. With a much more modest list redrawn, I'd approach her again. "We'll see," she'd say. It was a sort of game we'd play in the runup to Christmas, but in my naivete I didn't figure out for a few years that "We'll see" in our household was a way of letting you down easy. We were not a household of independent means, but I didn't relate that to my list.

One of the items on my "must have" list was always a bride doll. I don't think my parents ever understood the crucial nature of having this toy. Somehow, in my child mind, I identified with it and figured that if I didn't get one I'd probably never get married.  However, I don't believe that the fact that I never got one had anything to do with the fact that I didn't get married until I was almost 27. Lacking self-awareness had more to do with it than anything else. But we can save that discussion for a Pam Williams Retrospective some other time.

Does it seem ironic to anyone else that on Thanksgiving we list all the things we're thankful for, and then the next day we start making lists of more things we want to accumulate? That's the human race for you--never satisfied. Over the years I've learned that it’s spiritually and mentally a lot healthier to make lists of things to give other people. Whether or not it’s in our power to give them things we wish they could have, going through the exercise fosters the kind of insight about the human condition that selfish, greedy people never learn.

I don't make lists anymore, but if I were still tempted by that "thanks a lot but gimme more" trap, my list would be much different than it was in the days of the Montgomery Ward Christmas Wish Book. Now it would be tempered with realistically knowing that I'm not the center of everybody else's universes.

I don't remember exactly when the understanding came, but when I stopped gnashing my teeth over getting More and Better Stuff, I discovered that when we live with gratitude, we live with joy.

One gratitude rules and dictates all the rest--I'm grateful every day of the year that we can celebrate the birth of the Baby at Christmas, because if not for His birth, we would not have His sacrifice, making Easter the most important holiday of the year. If we live with continual gratitude for His tender mercies, every day is an endless thanksgiving.


jww said...

Very nice. It might make more sense to have Thanksgiving the day after Christmas. :) I think the main issue is the "I've been good" idea that our culture perpetuates. The Gift given at Christmas, and later at Easter, has nothing to do with "I've been good," and everything to do with, "actually, I haven't, and I really need You." It takes both maturity and a testimony, though, to see "I DON'T actually deserve this, but thank you beyond words."

Amy said...

A really nice post--I love everything you said!