Why Gratitude Is a Matter of Life and Death

By Djembayz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Djembayz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I get easily put off by the topic of thanksgiving and gratitude.  I’ve sat through too many Thanksgiving services where parents toddle up their highly precocious and well-behaved kids to the microphone to say something like, “I’m thankful for my family, my fish named Bob, and that Jesus is in my heart,” to a gushing congregation.  

Very nice and precious and all that.  But some of us just aren’t that simplistic.   We live in the real, grown-up world.  We pay bills.  We absorb hurts.  We endure conflict. We fight depression and disappointment.  Life isn’t a cutesy precious moments figurine.

Nevertheless, in spite of the quick-fix hashtag Christianity of balloons and banners where God is like a pithy statement and a warm puppy dog, gratitude isn’t a tool only for the simplistic and childish.  It is a matter of life and death.  

I’ve felt for years that this word of Paul was the pivot upon which all humanity teetered one way or the other:

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:21).

As a people and as individuals, we can either honor God as God (a truth that may be suppressed but never honestly denied) and set our hearts consistently towards appropriate appreciation of all that we are and have.  Or we can turn away and say “no” in a very real, consistent and direct manner.  It is this latter refusal-over-time that leads mankind to the foolish and darkened heart and the sort of degenerative behavior that Paul lists in the verses that followed.  These behaviors were what Paul thought in his day to be the worst expressions of the outworking of sin.

The cause and effect is important here.  It isn’t as if we can change or legislate deplorable behavior and outward expression in order to turn a nation’s heart to love God.  Rather it is the other way around.  If my heart departs upstream, I will find myself a thousand miles from home downstream and wonder where along the way I turned into a beast.

This is why I say gratitude is a matter of life and death.

Here’s how it works.  If I stop being thankful for a significant period of time and begin to become isolated from myself and others allowing resentment to creep into my heart, I begin to move towards self-pity because, after all, no one understands me.  

From self-pity, I go to entitlement and begin to use the dangerous phrase, “I deserve.”  From there, fantasy sets in to convince myself that it is my choice and right to get what I deserve.  From there, it is a short trip to contempt where I begin to use the nihilistic “whatever” or the harsher “screw it!” as I look in disdain at the less-than people around me.

Once at contempt, what is there to restrain me from any suggestion the devil has to offer?  The unthinkable becomes justifiable on my way to the hell of isolation, shame, and despair.

The fatal path is this:  resentment → self-pity → entitlement → contempt → destructive and hurtful behavior → isolation, shame, and despair

So what knocks us off this degenerative path?  What breaks the spell?  What is the antidote?  

In short, I think, it is gratitude.  I can set aside resentment because God has given me everything I need.  I find self-pity a worthless waste of time because I am richly endowed and find greater joy in being available for others.  I’m not entitled, deserving any more than what I have.  I appreciate, enjoy and utilize what I have.   And what right do I have to show contempt towards a fellow human created in the image of God?

Being older and having experience does not mean that I have mastered this.  It means I learned through trial and much error to recognize sooner the warning signs of when I am getting off track.  I have found the further I get down the degenerative path, the harder it is to resist temptation.  The trick is acknowledging God and intentionally practicing gratitude to get off the path as soon as I can.  Battling sin is always more successful the farther I am up the way.

How to Drop a Perfect Pumpkin Pie

pieMy mother thought of pumpkin pie as a health food.  Technically, pumpkin is a fruit and if she substituted the sugar with some sort of artificial sweetener, we would stave off diabetes by dying of cancer.  It was a joyful autumn evening (or as autumn as you can get in Southern California) to have a dinner of split pea soup and a large slab of pumpkin pie.

I think this was why I was so intent on making pumpkin pies for our first Thanksgiving after our marriage thirty years ago.   I was taking my bride to my brother’s house, a tradition my side of the family had enjoyed since he got married some years earlier.

I didn’t exactly know how to make a pumpkin pie though I did have a large can of generic brand pumpkin – the kind where you saved a few cents but didn’t get the recipes printed on the back.

So, I drove to the local supermarket to copy a recipe off of a higher priced can.  Of course, it would have helped if I brought a pencil or pen.  Nevertheless, I borrowed what I needed from an annoyed and impatient fellow shopper and I was set.

It was much easier than I thought as cooking had evolved from an activity involving skill to simply mixing chemicals.  The finished product looked remarkably like pumpkin pies and I stored them in the storage refrigerator for the trip out to dinner.

When it was time to leave, I went down to retrieve the pies.  I put one on one hand and scooped the other pie up on the other.  The first pie started to feel wobbly so I instinctively moved the other hand to steady the first pie making the second pie feel wobbly.  Between my two wobbly pies and my unsuccessful attempts to steady the opposite pie without making the condition of the first pie more precarious, they both landed face down on the floor.

I was so angry and beside myself that my wife had to tickle me in order to settle me down and be willing to enjoy our first Thanksgiving together without pie.

Some years later, now only a few years ago, we were making our way to a small group for a near-Thanksgiving dinner and bonfire.  We somehow inherited, in the ancient archive section of our pantry, a can of pumpkin pie mix.  We never made it up for ourselves fearing the dubious ingredient but figured it was within the realm of Christian love and charity to make it up for others so they can enjoy it as they develop cancer and diabetes.

Thankfully, it was easier to make than the earlier pies because all the chemicals came in one can and all you had to do was add eggs.

When done, I loaded the wife and a very big dog into the car.  We wisely put the pies in the back of the hatchback where the curious canine couldn’t get to it.  When we arrived, I pulled up the hatch to remove the pies.  Suddenly, our Great Dane got a whiff of another dog, leaped over the back seats, squeezed through the hatch and after the dog.

I now had two pies with two massive paw prints in the center.

Perhaps I had grown spiritually as this time I didn’t get angry but simply laughed.

As I write, another pumpkin pie is baking in the oven.  Next to the oven is our kitchen trash can.  When the pie is done, I’ll conveniently drop it into the trash.  This will save time and frustration.


Pumpkin Pie recipe I use today.  This is good if you don’t want wheat (gluten) or very much sugar in your diet.

Crust

Ground pecan meal (we buy it from a nut truck but can easily be made by grinding pecans in a food processor):  I use I guess about a cup or so – just eyeball what will line my pie pan.  Note:  other recipes are out there using almond flour.

Butter: I grabbed about a half a stick, melted it, and mixed with the ground pecan meal in the pie pan.

Mix and press into the pie pan until it looks sort of thinned out enough and symmetrical though it will be covered with pumpkin and no one will really notice.

Bake 10 minutes at 325 to make it a little toasty.

Filling

Pumpkin – About two cups. Can use a can of pumpkin or I like to throw a pie pumpkin in an Instant Pot pressure cooker for 10 minutes on manual with a 1/2 cup of water inside.

3/4 cups coconut milk or I like to use a 5.4 ounce can of coconut cream.

1/2 cup honey

3 eggs

2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice.  I tend to put in a teaspoon or two of cinnamon, 1/4 t to 1/2 t of nutmeg, 1/4 t to 1/2 t of ground cloves, 1/4 t to 1/2 t of ginger,  Recipes vary widely on the spicing so I think there is latitude.  Pumpkin pie (or harvest) spice tend to be some sort of combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger.  Cinnamon is the predominant spice.

1/2 t salt

Mix it all up with a hand mixer.  Put filling in pie crust above and cook at 325 degrees for 50 minutes or until the pie is set.

Topping

For a treat, get a small container of heavy whipping cream and whip until firm.  Not too firm – that is called butter.  Just enough for when you lift the mixer out and the peaks still hold.  You don’t need to add anything else to the cream though a cap full of vanilla extract is nice.