Nothing highlights my need for gratitude more than Christmas. My expectations are high. It’s my birthday. It’s Jesus’ birthday. And I have spent months shopping for the perfect gifts for everyone.
But the minute all the presents are unwrapped on Christmas morning, there’s a sense of letdown. I feel it in the air. Partly because there’s no more to open, nothing else to anticipate. And partly because the gifts themselves rarely meet expectations. People never seem to get me exactly what I want- there’s always something missing, something less than perfect.
I brush aside my vague dissatisfaction with my own gifts and quickly turn my attention to how others are responding to the presents I’ve given them. Invariably, I become even more dissatisfied; no one is as happy as I had hoped they would be. Some of their disappointment is voiced, but most is subtly revealed by their expressions. There’s always a longing- it could have been better, different, more thoughtful.
My first reaction is to point the finger. I ask myself how I could have a family that is so ungrateful. I silently accuse everyone of being materialistic, spoiled, jaded. I vow not to spend as much time or money next year, because it’s not worth it. I am annoyed that no one is thrilled with my efforts. I compare our family with others, and determine any one of them would be more grateful and helpful than mine.
My dissatisfaction with everyone’s attitude is contagious, and it casts a pall on the day. They can sense my disapproval. As I grumble that no one is helping to clean up, I realize that I am the one with the pervasive gratitude problem. Can I be thankful for what I have, rather than focusing on what I lack? While I am quick to point out other’s lack of gratitude for material things that don’t meet their expectations, I disregard my own ingratitude for people that don’t meet mine. My ingratitude is much worse, I realize. It’s personal. And toxic.
I need to let go of my expectations. The weight of them is crushing me. And everyone else.
I stop and pray. I ask God to help me be grateful for the people He has put in my life. To help me release my expectations- of how people should respond, how Christmas Day should be, how my life should look. My expectations are choking my relationships. Choking me.
I look around at each person individually. Each has blessed me in myriad ways over the year. Each has had their ups and downs, yet each is striving to be kinder, more thoughtful, more grace-filled. I notice the little things each person has done to make the day special for others. I see God’s abundant grace. Our family isn’t perfect, but we are all a work-in-progress.
I want to be different and I’m frustrated at myself. Why do I hang on to this picture of the way our family, and each individual in it, should be? Why can’t I accept people the way they are? Why do I expect gratitude- and when I don’t get it, why do I become angry and ungrateful?
GK Chesterton was asked what was wrong with the world, and he responded, “I am.” I echo his conviction. I am the the least grateful and most critical person in the family. I am too focused on what I deserve and not grateful enough for what I’ve been given.
When I see my shortcomings, I shudder at my arrogant expectations of others. My only hope for lasting change is found in Jesus. He alone has the power to transform me. He gave His very life for me, the greatest gift possible, and I first rejected it. The ultimate ingratitude. Yet He lovingly reached out to me. Didn’t take offense. Relentlessly pursued me. The King of Kings, the Lord of the universe, could have demanded respect, honor, gratitude. But instead, he was born in a lowly stable, to show us what extravagant love and true humility look like. No expectations. Just love. And it is that love that changed the world.
As I pick up the scattered remnants of ribbon around the tree, I pray that God would give me His heart and eyes. I want to see and appreciate the people in my life as they are and not put expectations on them. To celebrate their strengths and not dwell on their weaknesses. To be grateful for all that I have given.