“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” –Psalm 107:1
I remember a sermon several years ago that talked about being grateful, even when it seems like nothing could be worse. For the pastor, his wife had just given birth, and the baby was premature and in critical condition.
As they prayed in desperation, and even some anger, they sensed that they really should be thanking God for everything that was going well. So they began with the basics…food, shelter, love from friends, a good God, an older healthy daughter. And once thanksgiving began, it became easier to think of more reasons to be thankful. As praise fell from their lips, the Spirit renewed them with hope, with faith, with gratitude. From a more secular perspective, they started looking at the glass half-full rather than empty, and it literally began filling up and overflowing.
Increasingly so, I am aware of my material wealth. I recall the moment in Cambodia, walking through a slum of shacks, garbage, and malnourished villagers, when I realized that no matter how poor I was in America – if I was scraping by on a teacher’s salary, or living on welfare, or somehow lost everything – I would still be incomparably wealthy. And right now, I’m not scraping by. I have so many provisions, countless people who love and care about me, and bright opportunities ahead.
Today, on this fine lowcountry Thanksgiving, my heart is full, and my cup – or rather, my many buckets – overfloweth. In my education class a few weeks ago, we studied the eight “buckets” of wealth and poverty. Wealth is not just material. Even if I lost everything, I have a lot of other buckets that would sustain me.
A Thanksgiving Exercise
Go ahead, do this with me. Pull out a sheet of paper, and draw eight empty buckets on it.
Label your buckets with each of the following:
- Financial – Having money to purchase goods and services
- Emotional – Being able to choose and control emotions
- Mental – Abilities and skills to deal with daily life
- Spiritual – Believing in divine purpose and guidance
- Physical – Having physical health and mobility
- Support Systems – Having friends, family, and backup resources available
- Relationships/Role Models – Having access to nurturing, appropriate adults who do not engage in self-destructive behavior.
- Knowledge of Hidden Rules – Knowing the unknown cues and habits of a group
Now, enjoy some coloring time. For each of these buckets, be honest with yourself, and draw the line where you think your bucket is filled to. In America, many people may have buckets full of mental or financial wealth, but may be in a life-long spiritual drought. A woman in Belize may not have hardly any money, but she has the support of her community and a good God. I already knew I had a lot, but this exercise makes me wet, quite drenched, really, in wealth and blessings.
Beyond money, I am thankful that I am not struggling with depression or anxiety, that I am about to graduate from college and go to graduate school debt-free, that I trust in and serve a God who has redeemed me. Physically, I am both healthy and fit, and I am surrounded by people who care for me. I have two parents who have set a good example for me, and I have been taught how to behave in different social scenarios. How very grateful I am! My prayer is that I do not use these blessings selfishly, but that I really am a blessing to others. I want to not only be aware of the poor, but to actively and intentionally step outside of a comfortable lifestyle to fill up others’ buckets.
This day will never come again. No matter what your buckets are like, take a deep breath and remember that you are alive; that, my friends, is one heck of a gift itself. Where ever you are, whoever you are (or are not) with, whatever you are (or are not) feasting on today, I hope you have at least one bucket that is half-full. May we rest and be grateful in our buckets, and may we feel the urgent call to fill others up where we have the means to do so.