The sky outside is a dense, soaked grey today. It reminds me of earlier this year when my husband and I watched from our living room window as menacing clouds rose up in the distance then stretched their fingers tentatively toward the ground. We live in tornado country and we don’t take such sights lightly. Flipping on the television, we heard the weatherman telling us to find a safe place as he pointed to splotches of red on the map. We went to our designated spot and took a moment to pray as the tree limbs began to sway outside.
The dark masses soon gave way to brilliant blue again. The wind quieted and we stepped back into the rhythm of our routine. It was not until hours later as I curled up in my cozy bed under a pile of warm blankets that it occurred to me to say "thank you" to God for what didn’t happen that day.
I mentally scrolled through the list of other disasters I’d narrowly missed in life. The bad-news boy I had a huge crush on as a teenager. The suspicious test results that worried the doctor but turned out to be nothing at all. The countless times I’ve asked God to keep my husband safe as he headed out for a bike ride and then watched him walk back through the door sweaty and smiling hours later.
And, yes, I understand that even if the storm wreaks havoc, the unwelcome diagnosis comes or the heart gets broken we are still to say thanks. I have experienced firsthand the mysterious, hard beauty that can come from tears and ashes. But the place where I seem to most often miss an opportunity to be grateful is when everything turns out fine and I just go on my merry way.
God invites us to say thanks then, too. First, simply because He is worthy of it. “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good” (Psalm 106:1). What He prevents in our lives is just as full of gifts as what He allows.
Also, this kind of gratitude can cure so much of our discontent. When I think of how I could be suddenly homeless after a storm, I smile a bit more at the roof over my head and don’t notice that stain in the carpet as much. When I recognize I might be in the hospital instead of sitting in a little coffee shop with my computer, it puts that envy-provoking picture on social media into proper perspective. When I think of all the turns my story could have taken, the rocky patches in the road of my relationships don’t seem quite as much like boulders.
I want to thank God for all that isn’t there, for what could have been if things had gone another way or even if I had always gotten my way.
Yes, gratitude is about what we can see. But I’m learning it’s also about what, thankfully, will never be.