1 Thessalonians 5:18
It was a tiny, green ninja toy I must have picked up countless times before. But this time was different. This time, picking up that tiny, green ninja toy brought tears to my eyes. Tears of gratitude.
For this mother of small children, picking up toys for the umpteenth time often brings about frustration and annoyance. Annoyance at my kid who is old enough to pick up his own mess—frustration with myself for not being a better mom—you know, the kind of mom who actually has her kids trained to pick up their toys. But on this particular occasion, that tiny, green ninja toy in my hand made me smile at first. For an instant, I was overcome with joy and thankfulness for that messy kid’s presence in my life. For a moment, I relished his childish wonder at such a simple little thing. For a second, I was happy—no, joyful. I couldn’t remember the last time I experienced such joy. It came from a place deep inside me—a place that had been closed off for far too long. The smile turned to tears that flowed freely for the first time in ages.
I didn’t say it. I felt it. Somehow I was grateful for the opportunity to pick up a tiny, green ninja toy. What else could I be grateful for, I wondered? If I can feel thankful for a chore I despised just yesterday, what other drudgeries might I see in a new light? Unsure whether the rest of the day’s chores could be experienced similarly, I decided to try. Could I be grateful to fold laundry or make the bed? I decided to keep a little log that morning, to keep myself focused on the impromptu gratitude experiment I was about to conduct.
First chore: make the bed. “Can I find a way to be thankful while I make the bed?” I found myself thankful for my nice, warm blanket, remembering those who have no shelter, no bed, no blanket. Oh, how I love my blanket and my nice, soft sheets. As I turned the comforter over, I remembered it was a wedding gift. In fact, the blanket and the sheets were wedding gifts too. People loved us enough to provide these wonderful gifts that we still use years later. These were gifts. We didn’t earn these items. They were given to us out of love. I felt grateful for the love of so many family and friends. I’d be nowhere without the people who have sustained me my whole life through.
Downstairs to vacuum. “Let’s see how this goes.” Before I could start, I had to pick up more toys. But this time I smiled as I picked them up, remembering the breakthrough with the tiny, green ninja. When I had the floor clean enough to vacuum, I plugged in the sweeper and pushed it back and forth across the carpet. I felt thankful for this vacuum cleaner. In a long line of rotten vacuum cleaners, this one was the first good one I’ve ever owned. I thought about how my husband researched vacuums (something I would never do). Feeling irritated with him lately, I felt my irritation shrinking as I remembered the many ways he makes my life better. Now, lest you think me super zen-ful, I must confess that I caught myself thinking about how much I hated the carpet in my family room. No doubt, it was time for replacement. But when those negative, hateful thoughts arose, I somehow mustered enough mindfulness to tell myself, “No! We’re not going there right now.” And you know what? It actually worked! I could have a dirt floor, I reminded myself, and suddenly I became thankful for that old carpet.
My final chore of the morning was to sweep and mop the kitchen. I thought to myself, “Let’s turn on the T.V.” I don’t know why I did it, but in a flash my mindful experiment with gratitude mostly ended. I turned on the television to my favorite late-morning talk show, and gratefulness was soon gone. I swept the messy floor. I mopped the sticky tile. Where were my thoughts? They were with Ellen and Sting, simultaneously entertained by them and envious of them. Envious of her humor and perfect skin. Jealous of his muscle-tone and talent. Gratitude was gone. After the task was done I sat down and said to myself, “Whoa. What went wrong?” Realizing that I lost mindfulness the moment I turned on the television, I thought, “Well, that exercise in gratitude is gone. What do I have to feel thankful for now that it’s done?” I had to laugh. I could feel thankful that it was done. So I did.
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