I think it started when I peeked in the oven. One glance revealed blackened bread and an inner dialogue quietly simmered in my mind, overflowing into what I call “counting my bitters”:
I can’t believe I burned the special cinnamon chip toast.
I was distracted because I was also making the hot chocolate, tea, and coffee.
If someone would help me, then the toast wouldn’t have burned.
I haven’t even had a moment to sit down since I woke up.
I’m always trying to make everyone else happy; does anyone notice?
Now I have to start breakfast all over.
I guess it’s vacation for everyone else but me.
We were in the midst of the beautiful North Carolina mountains, staying at a home generously offered to us for a weekend getaway. On the drive up we stopped at an orchard and enjoyed perfect weather while apple picking with the kids. Providentially, our trip away fell on the weekend after my latest book project was completed. During a busy two weeks of editing, I had been waiting and longing for this moment.
Grumbling and Guilt
And yet, surrounded by good things, I found myself grumbling and complaining. These inward rumblings overflowed into a sour attitude toward my family. Annoyed glances silently spoke soliloquies, and sharp tones attended my words like unwelcome guests at a dinner party.
In the midst of counting my bitters, there was also a quiet assault of guilt intermingled with my murmurings. What exactly does it take for you to be happy? Is burnt toast enough to rob you of your joy? Don’t you know how many people would love to be here right now with their families?
Both the murmuring and also the guilt left me worn and weary. After breakfast I slipped away to my room. I shut myself in with my Bible and my journal and prayed. In the presence of the Lord my heart softened. The accusing voice of guilt was silenced by the tender welcome of my Savior.
Putting on Praise
Instead of counting my bitters, a new dialogue of thanksgiving began:
Thank you, Lord, for this time away with my family.
Thank you that each of them is here with me in this moment.
Thank you that I am healthy and able to cook for them.
Thank you for a beautiful view and time to sit and enjoy it.
Thank you for using burnt toast to reveal my need of you.
Thank you for your Word that reminds me of the truth I need.
Thank you for your tender mercies, they are new every morning.
Counting my blessings refreshed and revived my soul. These new thoughts accompanied me while hiking, playing games, and preparing meals for my family.
Psalm 50:14-15 encourages, “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you shall glorify me.” And Hebrews 13:15 commands, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.”
Preparing for Thanksgiving
As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, it’s easy to fall into the same grumbling and guilt cycle. We become Martha-like, busy with preparations and focused on all there is to do. Trying circumstances, unmet expectations, and relational disappointments tempt us to begin counting our bitters. We overflow with frustration and impatience to those around us. The celebration we hope to enjoy becomes impossible when our hearts are overtaken by murmuring and discontent.
We may have a beautiful table, but we’re sitting at it with a bitter heart.
Thankful hearts don’t happen naturally. We can always find something (or someone) that’s not quite right or good enough. It’s helpful to remember that thankful hearts aren’t the fruit of perfect circumstances or people. A thankful heart is the fruit of time spent with the Lord. As we first give thanks to him, we abound with love, joy, patience, and kindness to others (Gal 5:22).
There’s only one way to get that type of meal—by abiding in the Vine (John 15:1-5). Perhaps in the midst of cooking the turkey, setting the table, and cleaning our homes, we need to step away from all the planning, serving, and even enjoying the people we love so that we can have time to prepare our hearts.
As we quiet our hearts before the Lord, offering up the sacrifice of praise for his goodness in our lives, we prepare our hearts to experience the joy of giving thanks. Counting our blessings instead of counting our bitters allows us to to experience the truth of Proverbs 15:15: “The cheerful of heart has a continual feast.”
I’m hoping for that type of feast this week. Happy Thanksgiving!