Our family has been noticing a lot of yellow cars lately.
You see, as my kids are getting older, I'm learning more and more about just how important it is to instill in them an “attitude of gratitude.” For some reason I imagined they'd come out of the womb knowing how blessed they were.
I've perfected the art of clearing my throat loudly after handing them something and not receiving a reply. I've begun to read “Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World” by Kristen Welch (which I highly recommend, by the way, even if you don't have kids of your own). And I've been trying to work other hypothetical kids' stories in throughout the day; for instance, the “Did you know some kids don't have fill-in-the-blank...” or “Some kids don't get a home cooked meal very often if at all...”
So when my sister told me about the yellow car idea, I was eager to try it out – a concept that I could start implementing right away and wasn't over complicated. The idea behind it is simple: Yellow cars are somewhat rare, right? But like anything, once you start looking for them, you see them everywhere. The same can be said of focusing on what we can be thankful (or not) for: the more you do it, the more you “see” it. Therefore, each time you spot a yellow car, you are supposed to think of or say something out loud that you're thankful for.
At first it was great – the kids loved the “game” and the hardest part about it was limiting them to just one single thing each time we saw one. But soon the devil stepped in and arguments began about who would say it first, who said too many things, who didn't want to go last. It got so bad that we now limit our time of thankfulness to only one yellow car per trip, as that was really all I could handle to referee from the driver's seat.
But this isn't really a post about my kids. It's about me.
Because there are the days when I just don't feel like “playing”. You know, the ones when you feel dumped on by everyone? Unappreciated, over-worked, ugly, poor, destitute, rejected, inadequate, entitled. By no coincidence that it is on those days that we seem to see the most yellow cars. And the kids will always inevitably say, “Mom, it's your turn!” Great.
I have a confession to make: on days like the one I just described above, I don't want to see the good parts. In fact, there have been times on a day like that when I have seen a yellow car and have not even pointed it out, praying that no one else would spot it. My mind is not into focusing on the good – it's too busy seeing the bad and my sinful nature wants to stay there.
Because, you see, some days I'm bitter. I'm mad at the world and maybe even a little frustrated at the Big Man, too. And for one reason or another, saying “thanks” for something else seems counter intuitive. How can I hang on to my bitterness and also show gratitude?
The answer is I can't.
But the devil wants us to. He wants to take all the good in our lives and cover it with the bad. He wants us to focus on all that isn't going as we planned, all that we don't have, all of our expectations that aren't met in our relationships and our jobs and our families and ourselves. As this year ends and we reflect on all that's happened, he wants us to see the failures, the illness, the losses and none of the ways that God has already or intends to bless us through them.
And when sitting at the Thanksgiving table this weekend, the Great Thief of all happiness is going to try and fill your head with all of the aspects of this holiday (like all others) that are wrong. The relative that you wish would stop talking. The loneliness that sweeps over you when you look around at everyone else who “has someone” and you once again notice that you're the odd man (or woman) out. The frustration you feel when no one else understands your children's schedules and how important it is that dinner is served on time. The heartache that once again bubbles to the surface when you hold the new baby of your sister and long to see yourself in a child's face. The fact that your boyfriend always seems to say the wrong thing around your dad, leaving you to step in and make everything ok. The exhaustion you feel after spending the entire meal fighting with your four-year old, desperate to get him to take just one bite of the feast before him and stop wrinkling his nose. The happy face you once again put on because you wouldn't dare show weakness and admit that you're actually in the pit of depression and don't know why. And the list goes on.
Or maybe you won't even get to sit down at a Thanksgiving meal this year. Maybe you're working at the hospital, clinic or care facility taking care of those who don't have the opportunity to spend the holiday in their own homes. Maybe you were mandated to help cover the Black Friday mayhem (which now starts on Thursday in many places) and you'll look at those shoppers with disdain as you think about the meal you're missing. Maybe you're far from family and friends and would give anything to feel a warm hug or share a laugh with someone you love. Maybe you're finding yourself in circumstances you never thought you'd be in and tomorrow will feel just like another day to dread.
Whatever your situation is, there will inevitably be the not-so-great parts. Because unfortunately, we will never know a holiday without sin this side of heaven. But do you know what else? There's also gonna be a whole lot of good. Maybe it won't be anything big. Maybe you'll actually have to look for it. But whatever it is, be determined to find it and don't let the Deceiver steal your joy. Refuse to believe the lie that holding onto your bitterness will somehow make you happier in the end. For your heavenly Father has incredible plans for you and He gives each and every one of us experiences and things everyday for which we can be thankful. For He alone can see the bigger picture and knows how each moment of our lives fits into it.
So the next time you see a yellow car, practice gratitude. Say it out loud, even if you're the only one in the car. Even if you don't feel like it, challenge yourself to find something about the day, about your life, about your self that you can be grateful for. Trust me, it's not going to hurt ;)