I learned that I have a thanksgiving deficit. I’ve had it for a long time. I had (have) good parents who taught me better than to be ungrateful. They taught hard lessons that should have stuck with me but didn’t. One of the clearest was the night they decided to take us to see Gone With the Wind.
In our little town we only had a few theaters with one movie showing in each. The Visualite, The Dixie, and The Wayne were special places we rarely visited. One night mom and dad announced we were going to the movies and piled us into the car. I was excited until…
“What are we going to see?” I had something like Star Wars in mind.
“Gone With the Wind,” came the answer.
“It’s an old movie they’re bringing back to the theater for a special showing. It’s a classic.”
“It’s from 1939.”
All my excitement drained away.
“”What?! Is it even in color? Why do you want to see that? Sounds boring. Can’t we see a new movie?”
Then they said the magic words: “it’s educational. It’s a movie everyone should see.”
No thank you. I didn’t want an educational experience. I wanted a movie. I continued voicing my complaints all the way into town. My dad drove up Main Street and I could read the marquee on the Visualite. He kept on driving. Right past the theater. When I realized we were not stopping I asked why.
“If you can’t be grateful for going to a movie we aren’t going at all.”
It was a long silent ride home. It was…educational.
There are other things I remember being ungrateful for too. More than I’d like to catalogue for you. Looking back I can say I’m grateful my parents kept giving to an ingrate. It takes a lot of patience and love to give to people who often don’t appreciate what they’re given. Most of us grow out of the worst of our ingratitude, thank God, but not all of it. Not me.
Not long after I heard the Holy Spirit say “I have it” with regards to my treatment resistant depression, I heard him say I needed to start giving thanks. I didn’t want to give thanks. I didn’t feel thankful at all. Ten years of depression will do that to you. But he was persistent in that gentle way he has of leading us. He said there were lots of things to be thankful for and I should give it a try. So I did. It became part of my morning routine. I’d get in my car and drive to work and start thanking him for things. I started with easy stuff. Shoes. Shoes are good and I’ve got shoes. I realized I was wearing shoes and I have more than one pair of shoes. And pants. And a belt. It was winter and I had a car with heat. My wife. My kids. A home. The ride to work got more interesting. I thought of more things to be thankful for each day.
In a previous article I wrote about sowing seeds of joy when I didn’t feel joyous. At the same time I was doing that, the Holy Spirit prompted me to be thankful. I’m not sure how these things work together but I think it was like plowing a field.
Ingratitude is hardened ground. Try talking to someone who is truly ungrateful and you’ll discover its nearly impossible to get anything good to stick to them; they turn it down; they blow it off. Practicing thankfulness broke up the landscape of my heart. If you are depressed long enough you’ll develop some hardness. I believe this is something we do to protect ourselves because depression hurts so much. Even though I didn’t feel thankful at first the act of looking for something to be thankful for cut through the top layer of hardened soil and gave the seeds of joy a place to take root. I’ve told you before and I will repeat this: I didn’t know this was what was happening and I don’t think you need to analyze it to death. Depressed people need accessible solutions that don’t require long and arduous pilgrimages into our psychology. We don’t have the energy for that. You don’t have to understand what I’m saying here for it to work. Just try it. It’s not hard. You can do it and it won’t hurt to try.
In my case, the thankfulness became a habit. Instead of looking for things to be bad (= making room for more depression) I looked for things to be thankful for. The result was a gradual belief that even though I didn’t feel it, God was giving good things to me, an ingrate. My heart broke open and joy began to grow. It wasn’t fast, but it was real. I will even say the most ridiculous thing I think I will ever say: I eventually thanked God for the depression. It’s been a difficult course to take, but it has changed me forever for the better.
Let me know if you need help. We can do this. We can walk away from depression and into life. I will believe with you and for you if you can’t believe yet. Email me if you want some help: