“…I can’t tell you how much I long
for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life…The smallness you feel
comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them
in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great
affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!”  ~II Corinthians 6:11-13, MSG

*   *   *

[Often, walking through the fields] I would see a man walking his four Kerry Blue
Terriers.  These were amazing dogs.  Bounding energy, elastic grace,
and electric speed, they coursed and leapt through open fields.  It
was invigorating just to watch them.  Three of the four dogs did this;
the fourth stayed behind and off to the side of its owner, and ran
in tight circles.  I could never understand why it did this; it had
all the room in the world to leap and bound. One day I was bold enough
to ask the owner.

“Why does your dog do
that? Why does it run in circles instead of running with the others?”
He explained that before he had the dog, it had lived practically
all its life in a cage and could only exercise by running in
circles.  For this dog, to run meant to run in tight circles.  So
instead of bounding through open fields that surrounded it, it ran in

This is a powerful metaphor of
the human condition.  For indeed we are free …. but the memory of
the cage remains.  And so we run in tight, little circles even while
immersed in open fields of grace and freedom’.   – Martin Laird in
Into the Silent Land

*   *   *

“I’m not thankful for very many things,” he said.

Leaving my son’s room late one night – too late as always – I mentioned the Thanksgiving chain we had yet to start and my son said he didn’t want to do one this year.  When I asked him why, he told me he just wasn’t very thankful and I replied, “Well, that’s why we need to do it.”

This is my boy who always wants More and who, every time he gets One Thing, notices the lack of Another.  But he’s also the one who time and time again names that which I would rather keep hidden, whose voice so often puts into words the things we all feel, but dare not name.

You see, I’m in charge of the Thanksgiving chain at our house.

I’m the one who cuts long, thin strips of golden copier paper, who hunts down the stapler and markers, who remembers the way November sneaks up so quickly after the Mardi Gras madness of Halloween. 

But there we were, seven, eight days in, paperless, stapler-less, thankless.

Leaving my son’s room that night I knew that if we weren’t giving thanks, it’s because I wasn’t feeling very thankful either.

*   *   *

The bible never talks about “feeling thankful” though, instead we’re told to “be thankful.”

There’s a discipline to gratitude, a discipline to opening this doorway to grace, to leaving behind the tight, familiar circles of our own making.  Gratitude often doesn’t come easy, isn’t natural, especially in this life where we so often want and need More.

So we practice.

We bow our heads and pray it.

We write it, walk it, say it – out loud.

We practice opening this doorway to grace, precisely because it doesn’t come naturally.

And in the practicing our lives are changed, stretched, opened wide.  The memory of the cage fades as we’re remade into something new, as we too learn the art and beauty of running, leaping, bounding through wide, open fields.

*   *   *

The next night, downstairs in the dim bare-bulb light of our dining room, I rolled out a long stretch of transparent contact paper.  Taping it to the table to combat the curl, I told the kids to leave me alone, I was working on something, a surprise and they needed to wait.

Of course, this is exactly the kind of statement that sparks children’s curiosity and they swarmed as I cut and taped strange shapes all across the table top.  Drawing with a brown permanent marker I made the outline of a sturdy winter tree, branches bare, reaching. 

Piece by piece we lifted and carried that tree.  Peeling the backing, we stuck it from the ground up, right onto the bare, white living room wall.

“What’s it for? What are you making? What are we going to DO with it?” they cried, circling me, leaping and bounding like puppies eager for a treat.

“We’re going to write the things we’re thankful for on leaves and put them on the tree,” I explained at last, cutting a few quick leaves from smaller pieces of contact paper.

Then I added, to my son who wasn’t very thankful, “Solomon, go get the permanent markers.” 

If there’s one thing my son loves, it’s permanent markers.  They’re the Holy Grail of craft supplies at our house.  Standing on end in an old yogurt container on the kitchen counter, they’re off-limits, used only by permission.  Second only to permanent markers on the craft supply hierarchy of a five year old boy, is contact paper.  To be allowed to use both at the same time, to make and stick as many leaves as he wanted, was surely something to be thankful for. 

Slowly, over the days and weeks, we’re watching that tree grow full and green with gratitude, while the trees outside drop wave after wave of leaves.

We’re growing new leaves in fall which, I guess is a little bit what gratitude is like, especially when it doesn’t come easy.  The green buds and leaves of spring are no miracle, but these leaves, chosen in the face of winter, these leaves, surely, will give us shade in the days and weeks ahead. 

We’re practicing gratitude together.  Practicing opening these doorways to grace, practicing running and leaping, laughing and loving, in these open fields of grace. 

This post is linked with Playdates with God.

Sustainable Spirituality

Sustainable Spirituality

Design a spiritual life that works for your life. Sign up now to receive my FREE GUIDE explaining the top 5 characteristics of sustainable spirituality.

When you get the FREE guide you are also subscribing to Quiet Lights, my bi-monthly email containing contemplative resources and writing.

Thanks for subscribing! Check your email inbox for a link to download the free gift.