(Below is the talk I gave in chapel on Tuesday evening).
When my kids were little, I read somewhere that developing gratitude was important for children’s development. So the Kee family had a routine before bed – we would sing three songs: You are my sunshine; Hush Little baby; and the Lord bless you and keep you – and then I would ask them to tell me three things for which they were grateful. It just became – what are your three things. As children, they would find it easy to come up with a list, and it often included what they had for dinner that evening, or more likely, what they had for dessert.
As an aside, when Jacob and Kathleen came to Lakefield, I would text them all kinds of questions and they would rarely give me more than a one or two word response. Early on, I would text – how was your day? And the most popular response, of course, was…. good. It would drive me crazy. Don’t do that to your parents. Then I got clever, and I would text them and ask – what are your three things? I am so smart. I started to get multiple word answers. I would be grateful if you would send multiple word messages to your parents. Parents love multiple word texts.
Back to my children, when they were children. There came a day, when I was tired and although I hate to admit it, I was frankly just going through the bed time motions, almost rushing them so I could get on with my evening and go to bed early. One night, I remember being close to wrapping up the night, when one of them asked me for my three things.
I thought – oh my gosh… I am too tired. I have had a long day. I really had nothing to be thankful for. But there they were, looking right at me, anticipating that I would enjoy this new aspect of our ritual. I had to come up with something.
And so it began.
As often as possible – I would love to say every night, but I just sometimes forget – I end my day, before I got to sleep, by thinking of the three things for which I am most grateful. I wish I could tell you that I can easily think of three things. But I have realized that it requires work. Not just one thing, but three things can be tough.
Finding three things to be thankful for on any day is important. When you are grateful, you have no room in your life for self-pity. But here’s the thing – finding three things on a bad day is even more important. The ups and downs of life can sometimes eclipse an attitude of gratitude – but the more we can focus on gratitude, the happier and healthier we are. I try to make gratitude a habit or a discipline. I find it helps me with perspective.
I’m reading this book – I recommend it – it’s on the best seller list this Christmas season. It is Oprah’s book called The Wisdom of Sundays. She includes an entire chapter on Gratitude. (Read two sections – page 152 and 165.)
So whether you practice gratitude in the evening, in the morning, or in the moment you are least grateful, I hope you will take a moment before you leave Lakefield for your holiday and think about the three things you are grateful for. The German mystic, Meister Eckhart, once said – If the only prayer you say in your entire life is thank you, that will be enough.
That’s my first hope for you. But there’s more….Feeling gratitude and not expressing gratitude, is like wrapping a Christmas present and not giving it.
The greatest gift is feeling gratitude AND expressing it. That’s my second hope for you – that sometime this week, you will express gratitude to someone… anyone! But find that courage deep down and express it. See how that feels… It is not happy people who are thankful; it is thankful people who are happy. And now, I would like to express my gratitude to you.
Four days per week we spend our time here in chapel, and I am thankful for three things that you do here in chapel.
- I love when we sing all together, thanks to our most talented Syd (spelled with a Y) and I love when our choirs sing, with the help of our most talented music teachers. I also love when those of you with special talents sing on your own and/or play musical instruments. I love that you get up in front of your peers, who are not an easy audience by the way, and you sing and play music. We have enjoyed a lot of performances this fall, and I appreciate all of you who share your talents.
- You may be surprised by this second one, but I also love our Lakefield approach to Standards. It is not like any other school. I wish there were not as many standards announcements, but I absolutely believe in the way students deal with discipline and the way students share the stories with each other in chapel. We are a small community here and stories spread quickly, so I am thankful that we have a system to minimize gossip. We are respectful of each other in our community, and I really appreciate the time we give to support each other.
- And number three – I am thankful for chapel talks. It takes courage to get up here and be vulnerable and speak. I think it is one of the most valuable traditions of this school. To have the opportunity to listen to our grads as they share stories of their thoughts and lessons learned, and as they express gratitude for their family and friends… it is becoming a real highlight of my days.
Michael Bernard Beckwith wrote – Begin to notice what you have in your life that you are grateful for and when you look at life through the lens of gratitude, you don’t see as many obstacles or hindrances. You see potential, you see possibilities. Then you become an open vehicle for more inspiration, more wisdom, more guidance, coming from the spiritual part of your being.
I’m so grateful to be here at Lakefield, and I am grateful to all of you for being here with me.
I hope you enjoy your holiday. I hope you make time to practice gratitude and express gratitude, especially to those you love.