Gratitude for Community at Thanksgiving
It's easy to stop noticing the things that you see each and every day.
- That picture hanging on the wall
- The "check engine" light in your car
- The piece of trash beside your computer
- The piece of your sidewalk that's broken
- Your neighbor's Christmas decorations that have been up all year
- The leftovers from the Italian restaurant last month (hypothetically, of course)
- That pile of unfolded laundry (again, hypothetically, of course)
As things (or even people, for that matter) become more and more familiar, they're easier to overlook. Consciously, maybe you made the decision to overlook it initially, and now, well...it's been there this whole time, so why bother yourself today with what you can bother yourself with tomorrow? Unconsciously, your eyes become trained to look right past it. Right past the mess, the dysfunction, the need, inconvenience and the brokenness. The lights are blinking, alarms are going off, but you don't even see or hear them. You've trained yourself to not notice them.
Do you know what blinders are? They're little pieces of leather or plastic that are positioned to the side of a horse's eyes, to keep them focused on what's ahead. It prevents them from seeing anything on the periphery. Because horses can be easily spooked, these blinders keep them from noticing anything that's remotely dangerous, or fear-inducing, to protect the horse, the rider, and anyone that may be walking close to the horse. They keep everyone safe, and keep the horse focused only on what's ahead.
They work well for horses.
It's possible for us to put blinders on our eyes, too. Ones that keep us safe, settled and sanitary. Ones that keep our gaze only focused forward.
Do you know what works well as a blinder for us humans? Familiarity.
It keeps us focused on what's ahead, only on where we're going and what our agenda is.
When we put the blinders of familiarity on, we're safe. We overlook the brokenness, the mess, and the chaos around us. We overlook the needs of others in preference for our own. We are blind to any potential distraction that God may put in our way, intentioned for our good and the good of others. Whether your blinders are there intentionally or not, it's time to recognize them.
"The Lord sets the prisoners free; The Lord opens the eyes of the blind." (Psalm 146:7-8)
There's a physical component to blindness, but there's also a spiritual component, where our eyes are shut to the God who loves us, and the needs that surround us.
In this season my family's life, it would be easy for us to live in others' blind spots. My wife and two kids moved from Tennessee to California a year ago. We moved from an area where we were surrounded by family and community to an area where we had none. From a state with deep relational ties to a state with roots only topsoil deep. For our family, the holidays are a reminder of what we had. Even though what we had was never perfect, just like any situation is never perfect but can be glamorized when looking back, they bring up visceral memories of what used to be. The time we spent with family and close friends in Tennessee was often a bonding and healing agent when life was hard, and a place of celebration and gratitude when life was good.
We knew that through this move we would long for those deeper relationships, and would run the real risk of sitting in the blind spot of so many people as they passed us by. When you have your family and close friends (who are also family) around, it's easy to not notice the people that don't. To forget about the ones that don't have anyone. To be blinded by the familiar relationships you have in your own life.
Just the other day, my wife and I got this email:
You may already have plans for Thanksgiving but, in case you don't, we would love to have you join us. This is a soft ask so, if you've got or get a better offer, don't feel at all obligated. But know that you've got a place for Thanksgiving Day if you would like it...
That's a good friend right there. That's someone that's taken their blinders off, thrown them to the ground and stomped on them. That's someone that refuses to focus only on themselves. Someone who notices. I'm thankful that others have removed their blinders, and invited us in. Thankful that others have chosen not to simply stay in their own safe, sanitary driving lane, but have reached out and treated us as family.
James, the brother of Jesus, tells us, "Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow." (James 1:17) Relationships are on the list of 'good things' as far as I'm concerned. And I am not taking them for granted anymore. Because we often don't appreciate what we have until we don't have it anymore. So, during this season of Thanksgiving and beyond, my "everyday gratitude" focus is to be thankful for the relationships and community God has placed in our lives and surrounded us with in this and every season. Every. Single. Day.
This holiday season and every day, I'm thankful for friends that embody faith:
"Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples." - Jesus (John 13:35)
Take your blinders off, live out your faith and ask God to help you notice others. Community is always a risk, but it is one someone else is waiting for you to take.
Additional Thanksgiving resources from What's In The Bible?
Ben Reed and his wife Laura live in Southern California with their two children, Rex, 6, and Gracie Kate, 21 months. Ben served for eight years as a Small Groups pastor at two churches in Nashville, TN, before joining the Small Groups Staff at Saddleback in the fall of 2014. Ben is the author of "Starting Small - The Ultimate Small Group Blueprint" and blogs regularly at BenReed.net.