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Thanksgiving - and a gratitude upgrade

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

November 26, 2003



In the past, Thanksgiving and the surrounding season have been marked by certain telltale signs. Pending plans with family and friends. Time out for gratitude. The first snowfall of the season, pumpkin pie, and cranberries on sale in the supermarket.

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So I was caught off guard this year when an in-depth study of the Commandments, specifically the Tenth Commandment, "Thou shalt not covet," led me to think about the holiday long before cranberries made their appearance in the produce section.

For a long time I'd thought of coveting as envying - wrongful desire that ends up blinding one to the good already at hand. It was natural, then, for me to see the connection between gratitude and the Tenth Commandment. Being grateful is the perfect antidote to feeling envious because it keeps one's focus on the always generous source of good, God.

I felt as if I "got it" when it came to not coveting. I thought I was pretty good at exchanging thankfulness for envy. Pretty good, that is, until a recent insight stopped me in my tracks.

As I thought more about the Tenth Commandment earlier this year, it struck me that there was more to not coveting than the act of gratitude - at least the gratitude that I'd been offering. My thanks to God for the many ways I was seeing His love in my life had been heartfelt. But underneath was an expectation that while His goodness was sufficient for now, in time, it would have to increase.

As the youngest in a diverse collection of colleagues, I'd experienced firsthand the way more life-experience often meant a different sense of family - spouse, children, grandchildren - and a different type of lifestyle - a nicer house, opportunities for travel, more financial freedom.

I was relatively content with my life, grateful for what I had. But there were the occasional pangs when I saw a friend's lovely home or a co-worker's sweet relationship with a spouse. I had the expectation that all these things would be mine, in time. Little did I realize that this approach to life was still tinged with covetousness.

This became abundantly clear after a new relationship unexpectedly came my way. As I was thinking about it one afternoon - feeling grateful, but also asking God for direction - it came strongly to me to give some thought to the Tenth Commandment.

The Tenth Commandment? Not coveting hardly seemed to be an issue. But I began to see that one of the main reasons I was happy about this relationship was because I felt that I'd finally found the ultimate form of companionship. That up until this point I'd had almost everything I needed - but not quite.

It was then that I realized my approach to gratitude needed an upgrade.

What came to me with regard to that final commandment was this: A spouse, children, financial freedom - these weren't signs that I'd lacked something before and that God's love for me had suddenly increased. These changes were simply new manifestations of the goodness that had been mine forever.

I'd always thought of God as infinite. But for the first time I recognized that His infinitude wasn't expressed as "a lot" or "more." It was being revealed daily as "always as much as you need."

Did I have all the love and family I needed, right here, right now, regardless of whether I was married or single, had children or didn't? Yes. Were the qualities that constitute the idea of "home" always mine, whether I rented a studio apartment or owned a stunning brownstone? Absolutely.

Things changed radically as I considered this new relationship - and my life - through the lens of the Tenth Commandment. My desire not to covet became a prayer to be freed from a life based on accumulation. To live, instead, with the understanding that, though its expressions may shift, God's love for His children is unchanging in its abundance, unwavering in its presence.

This Thanksgiving, I'll be celebrating the holiday with active gratitude based on God's infinite love. As I've begun to discover, that's gratitude that really packs a punch. It opens the way to life in a spiritual now, filled with goodness - a state of thought where it's Thanksgiving every day.

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