I try not to be grateful

I love Thanksgiving!

But…

I try really hard not to be grateful for what I have.

You might think that someone who has worked in a homeless shelter most of his life (and who has witnessed crushing poverty in multiple African countries) would be especially grateful that he lives in neither a homeless shelter nor an African slum. 

And I am grateful, but I try not to be.

Here’s what I mean…

I try not to be merely grateful. 

It is very easy for gratitude to replace action. 

It is very easy for gratitude to become an end rather than a beginning. 

There is nothing wrong with gratitude that leads a person to action on behalf of others. 

Unfortunately, we often seek gratitude for its own sake. 

There is nothing inherently good or worthy about gratitude that does not cause us to help someone else. 

My only response to the misfortunes of others cannot be gratitude that I am not them.

I try especially hard not to be grateful to God for the blessings in my life.  I have spent too much time with people in shelters and slums to think that God gave me a beautiful wife, two healthy children, a law degree and a steady job while giving others homelessness, malaria, schizophrenia, and cancer. 

We often treat gratitude like a burnt offering:  something that drifts up to heaven and pleases God for its own sake but doesn’t fundamentally change the conditions on this earth.  It supposedly atones for a multitude of sins, but by itself it does nothing to rectify them.

Maybe the God who created the trees and the birds and the very earth where slums and shelters sit wants more than my gratitude. 

God did not build the slums and the shelters.

We did.

And it is we who will have to unbuild them.

So, my prescription for this season of giving thanks is to embrace the joys in your life with humble gratitude. 

BUT…

Immediately after you feel gratitude you should feel angst—angst at a world that falls short of its potential. 

The angst is more important than the gratitude that precedes it. 

Angst coupled with hope is capable of birthing both today’s miracles and tomorrow’s justice.

Or, more simply put:  Be grateful…  Then go change the world.

Have a fantastic Thanksgiving everybody!

Peace,

Ryan

Stay in touch

Receive weekly tips from Ryan about how to work with homeless, addicted and mentally ill patrons.