Photo by Wilhelm Gunkel on Unsplash

God Saw We Were Flunking Gratitude And Sent Us To Our Rooms

Time to think about your behavior, kiddo

So it’s Thanksgiving season again, God. As You know — ah, yes, well of course You know — I mean — ah, nuts. I do that every time, don’t I? Let me start over.

Dear Sir or Madam God: I just want to apologize in advance for the annual torrent of “thanks” you’re about to hear from Your creatures, particularly some of us over-privileged, under-disciplined humans.

Oof. We really crank it up in November, don’t we? All the rest of the year, it’s peeve and pout, but suddenly in November, we’re all competing for Most Appreciative.

And I suppose we have good intentions, and I’m trying to gracious about it — but just between You and me, those “prayers of thanksgiving” still rub me the wrong way. I don’t know how You stand it.

I remember talking to You all about it last year:

Well, a year later, and I’m still annoyed by the way people thank You for stuff they went out and hustled for themselves. Or sometimes they’re thanking You for stuff they out and out stole. Like America. (What do First Nations people think when they hear white people thank You for “blessing us with this Great Nation?” I wonder.)

Or lots of times people will sound like they are thanking You when they’re really criticizing You — ever notice that?

They’ll say, “And we just thank You, Lord, for pulling us all through, Lord, when we thought you had given us all the COVID, Lord, in Your wisdom, Lord, but then it was just some other virus, sent to test us, Lord, amen!”

I have found that the more people say “Lord” when they pray the more they are trying not to cuss. It’s true.

Why can’t they just be honest, like those people who wrote the Psalms? They didn’t tiptoe around Your feelings, did they? Whoever wrote Psalm 44 was practically yelling at You halfway through it — “Wake up! Why are you sleeping? Get up! Don’t reject us forever!”

They really thought You were sleeping. Later, people just gave up and said You were dead.

I defended You, though — I said You were just letting us learn on our own for a while. Or maybe You just needed some Me time.

Photo by visuals on Unsplash

We might not be entirely sincere in our thanks…

Anyway, God, when we’ve had a crappy year, like 2020 has been, You’re going to see us weirdly try to be extra pious. Maybe we think we will get extra points for being grateful when things are actually terrible. If so, then this year, what with the pandemic and all, there’s going to be gratitude all over social media. Also irony. Go figure.

But people will try to thank You, because they think they ought to. The instructions are quite clear — you know, all the instructions You supposedly dictated to people long ago and left in various repositories — sacred texts, folk wisdom, and the really higher authorities: aunties and uncles.

And we might be lying outright

So You’re going to hear a lot of people saying sad, phony things from their little zoom squares, like “We’re so sorry we can’t all be together this holiday!”

This is baloney. Which is what they are eating instead of turducken: they are eating gourmet vegan baloney sandwiches, and binge-watching Dexter and Mindhunter and The Walking Dead in their comfiest yoga pants, and they could not be happier.

Then they’ll make some artless statement like, “We’re so thankful that Arabesque and Brinkman can homeschool, while Cutter and I work from the veranda. We feel truly blessed.

I’m pretty sure this is also a lie, because — and I’m just guessing here…

…how does “I feel blessed” translate to “I want to spend hours watching zombies and serial killers”?

To quote a family film favorite: “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

“Thank You for giving me more than the others got!”

Here’s my dilemma: when we thank You for our blessings, aren’t we really pointing out what we have that the others don’t have? I mean, how else do we know we are “blessed” if not by comparison with those who aren’t “blessed”? I can’t quite figure out the proper etiquette there.

I’m still waiting for someone to say, “I’m really poor in spirit today, and meek, and I’ll be persecuted later, so I’m pretty damn blessed, thanks for asking.”

Photo by Shane on Unsplash

And what if we’re not even “thankful”?

Sir or Madam God, I don’t know who, exactly, is supposed to get thanked these days and for what, exactly.

Most people assume we are thanking You for Your actions, but around here, any “acts of God” are the actions that an insurance company won’t even make good on.

So… maybe when somebody is saying “thank You” it isn’t really sincere… unless that somebody wants something from you. That’s my cynical side again. Are we all just Eddie Haskells, deep down, God? Probably. I guess You should know.

And 2020 had plenty of those “acts of God”: and I say no thanks for the fires and floods and land hurricanes, for crying out loud. Record climate disasters weren’t enough (I know, I know — “Whose whose fault is that ?”), but also wars and shootings and earthquakes and I don’t know what all — nah. NO thanks.

The world is too small now; the disasters follow us right into the john if we forget and have our phone with us. But then the world is too big for us to know anything to do about it. So no thanks for that useless bit of consciousness we all got.

And now that I think about it — I’m not grateful for most of the headlines we read about what the U.S. went through this year. I don’t even want to get into it. Just make a list of the crummiest things that could happen around here, and just say no thanks as you check each box. So — in the words of every smart-alec, ever: thanks for nothing, God.

Is there anything AT ALL to be thankful for this year?

Yes. There is.

Grudgingly, if everyone promises not to be overly humble, or humblebrag, or secret-criticize, or monopolize the conversation, or cry public tears that should be private tears, or embarrass anyone unawares, or use this opportunity as an excuse to advertise a garage sale, I’ll allow one prayer of thanksgiving, and one only.

If you have a home with a roof over it, where you can be reasonably safe: you may give thanks for that one thing. Indeed, you probably must.

Yes: we all get to be home for the holidays

Because this year, because of the pandemic, we should all plan to be home for the holidays. Because — and I think God was trying to tell me this:

God said,

“You are all the most ungrateful children.

You must now all go to your rooms.”

I know, I know: we chafe; we are weary; we miss our love ones. We want to get out more… ditch these masks! Be done with these restrictions! Be free!

But we have not truly appreciated what we have — the homes we live in, however modest— until we realize how many people don’t have homes: specifically, 37 million people who have been displaced since 9/11/2001 as a result of our country’s actions in the “War on Terror.”

So it’s simple. Our politics must unite toward nonviolence and peace — which DOES include dismantling racism and toxic sexism and xenophobia, and working for climate justice and averting ecological disaster — yes, all those things fall under the rubric of peace not war— so that our country stops being an instrument of war and learns what “blessed” actually means.

And until then, I believe God has grounded us, kids.

I just hope we’re allowed to keep our phones.

the author at little forest

Preaching courage in the face of absurdity. Editor of Real Life, Real/igion — join us for the newsletter Real/igion for the Rest of Us.