The Thanksgiving holiday prompts many reflections; and this year, I want to especially consider gratitude for inconveniences and plans gone wrong. I want to nurture gratitude for the messy unpredictability of daily living.
It is so easy to burden ourselves with inconveniences by grumbling about the many things that do not go our way. We like to be in control and manage situations, and we like to know how things are going and how they will end. But so many gifts are given to us in inconveniences and wrenches in our plans.
My good friend Jessica Laenger told me at dinner last semester that she tried something new that gave her an entirely new outlook of gratitude and appreciation; she stopped clinging to her daily to-do list. We both love to plan our days in advance, setting aside certain hours for meals, meetings, homework, etc. She realized that her plan for each day was never accomplished exactly the way she hoped, and it frustrated her to make consistently unrealistic plans, but the things she didn’t schedule into her day were still good for her.
Jess would encounter friends who either needed a helping hand or could lend a sympathetic ear; she would be delayed by some slight miscalculation, but it gave her time to breathe and pray. Jess appreciated the wonderful wrenches in each day, but her appreciation was always tinged with the frustration that her plans had once again been thwarted. So she decided to continue to make her plans for each day but to see them more as guides – and her goals were no longer constraints on the rest of her life and relationships.
Interruptions could be seen as blessings because she was less focused on the plan that was now thrown off and more focused on the gift of the person in front of her. When her timing wasn’t perfect or she had to wait in an extra-long line, she could relax and take the gift of the moment without the pressure of keeping an exact hourly schedule. After Jessica shared this with me, I tried to take the same approach in my own life, and the past several months of being more relaxed about my schedule have certainly freed me to be more appreciative.
On the grand scale, the concept still applies. Our lives go in directions we don’t anticipate, we meet unexpected people who greatly influence us and relationships take twists we couldn’t foresee; but if we let God work in and through us, our lives are so much better. If we stop seeing changes in our own plans as wrenches, we can recognize God guiding us to His plan, which is always better than our own.
Allow me to also offer a clarification: occasions of sin and physical evil such as sickness and death are not parts of the definition of “inconveniences and plans gone wrong.” Not everything that happens is part of God’s plan. But we need an increased awareness that when things do not go according to our own plans, it is not an offense against the universe. Big or small, our plans are not the ideal standard of the good life, and a change of plans is not the end of the world.
This Thanksgiving, let’s approach the minor inconveniences as the blessings they are. Let us see big changes as they are, too: changes, not curses. Let us be grateful that we have a loving God who guides us through this beautifully and blessedly unpredictable life.