At Thanksgiving several years ago, my family spent a few hours in our backyard practicing a laser-focused kind of gratitude. With the grandchildren running in and out of the house, the adults sat in a circle around my mother, then 85, and my mother-in-law, then 95, and listened to their stories.
We heard stories about their lives, their families, their romances, their challenges. From time to time, we prompted them with follow-up questions, and then we thanked them. We expressed gratitude for the legacy they’d left in the wake of their long lives and for all the ways their love had blessed us over the years.
Somewhere during the gratitude part, one of our sons shared a quote he’d recently heard:
“We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant.”
– Reverend Peter Raible
I wonder if the most humbling expression of gratitude is the kind that pays homage to what we did not work to achieve, like the unmerited grace and love God gives us. In that sweet, safe moment with my family, it occurred to me that we had more than enough shade to share and that the gravitas of gratitude is that it carries with it a responsibility to share. Gratitude and hoarding cannot exist together.
I believe God gives shade to embolden us to be shade-sharers with him. Or, to use Paul’s metaphor, the flour he gives us is meant to become the bread of a generous life:
This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.
– 2 Corinthians 9:10-11, The Message
God’s shade-giving is not transactional, as in, “I give you a little extra of this or that so you can give this or that away.” His shade is too vast to define in this way. It isn’t meant to simply provide for us and for others, but also to produce something healthy and whole in us. My prayer is that, long after the fancy napkins are used up on Thanksgiving Day and after Giving Tuesday is forgotten, our gratitude will endure in lives that have been transformed by God’s extravagant generosity.
What are you grateful for?
What and/or who has filled you up so that you have more than enough to spare?
What tree are you sitting under? Is there enough shade to fill a few empty chairs? And are there practical ways you can be instrumental in filling them?