I’m not sure when the suffix “ish” came into common parlance as a qualifier, but I hear it all of the time. In fact, I’m increasingly using it myself.
Adding “ish” to just about any word implies something close to the word’s original intent, but not quite; approximately, but less than; almost, but short of; similar, but not. I’m even guilty of dropping the intended word entirely, allowing “ish” to stand alone, carrying the full meaning of the word, often in response to a question…
“Are you hungry?” “Ish.”
“Did you get a good night’s sleep?” “Ish.”
“Are you sure that’s your decision?” “Ish.”
Honestly, “ish” describes my feelings this particular Thanksgiving – thankful…ish. Yes, I’m thankful, for so many things. But…
Now, before dismissing me as a spoiled, privileged, ungrateful, over-indulged, immature, narcissistic, thankless ingrate – or worse – please allow me to explain! I didn’t say I’m NOT thankful! I am! For so much. I am truly blessed, beyond any words I possess to express or describe. I have a great job. I live in a great house in a great neighborhood. I have a happy marriage to a wonderful wife. My children are happy, healthy, and thriving. I have all I need, and more. I certainly don’t deserve more, or even what I have. For all of that, and more, I am sincerely grateful.
Without forgetting ALL I have to be thankful for, or taking any of it for granted, may I also mention… 2020 SUCKS!
As I write this, my wife and I are self-quarantined, after exposure to someone who is Covid-positive. Though we’re both symptom free, so far – thankfully – we’ve cancelled our Thanksgiving plans with family, which is the second time we’ve amended our holiday plans due to the pandemic. Quarantining and changing holiday plans are hardly the end of the world, I know. But, can I just whine a little?
Or, if you’ll allow it, could I whine a wee bit more?
Though I’m pleased with the outcome of the recent election (sorry to those who aren’t), I’m exhausted by the vitriol, and the deep political divides. Though I feel positive about the new administration, I’m also skeptical about what can be accomplished, and whether or not our country can heal. Honestly, it weighs on me.
I, like many, have Covid-fatigue. Though I continue to follow safety protocols, and practice safe, social distancing, as much as I can, I’m just sick of it. SICK OF IT!!! I’m ready – more than ready – for a new normal, whatever that might be.
And, that’s another thing. What will a “new normal” be? It’s not like we’ll flip a switch after everyone is vaccinated and resume life as it was in early 2020. Let’s be honest, whatever “normal” will be, as much as we long for it, won’t feel “normal” any time soon.
And, what about Christmas, the “most wonderful time of the year?” The morning news projected America’s daily death rates doubling by Christmas day. If many cancelled Thanksgiving due to Covid, how many more Christmas plans will be wrecked?
And, what if my current quarantine isn’t just a precaution? What if I’m infected? Then what?
I know. I know. This doesn’t sound very much like Thanksgiving spirit. Sorry. Or, maybe I’m not sorry. Am I thankful this Thanksgiving? Sure… ish.
But, here’s the rub for me. I’ve been wrestling with an annoying verse of Scripture from 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (CEB)
“Every” situation? Really?!?! Give me a break.
And, yet, that’s what it says. I don’t like it. But, that’s what it says.
I suppose I could ignore it, as many do with most of Scripture (Wow! That sounded cynical!), but for some reason I find it personally convicting, calling out my “ish”-ness So, after much mental consternation, study and fitful reflection, I wonder if the key word in this verse is “give.” Admittedly, some translations for this verse say, “be thankful” instead of “give” thanks. But, the majority go with “give,” as in “GIVE thanks in every situation.”
I know I might be stretching the meaning of the admonition. Perhaps I’m rationalizing or justifying a woefully insufficient Thanksgiving Day spirit. But, I wonder… I wonder… is it sufficient, sometimes to “give thanks” when I’m only feeling “thankful…ish?” After all, we’ve all said “Thank you,” for gifts we didn’t really want, need or like! Was it wrong to say it, if we didn’t really mean it? Or, in our more mature moments, maybe we were grateful for the gesture, even if less than grateful for the gift itself?
Henri Nouwen suggests,
“Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint. I can choose to be grateful when I am criticized, even when my heart still responds in bitterness. I can choose to speak about goodness and beauty, even when my inner eye still looks for someone to accuse or something to call ugly. “Henri Nouwen
Some argue we should be grateful, not only “in” every situation, but “for” every situation. After all, who of us is so wise to know what’s really good for us, or what difficult circumstances might ultimately be for our good and growth? They have a point.
But, while I do believe God’s redemptive power can bring immeasurable good from unspeakable horror, I don’t necessarily believe God requires us to be thankful “for” everything. Perhaps we can grow into thankfulness for the good or growth that eventually comes from hardship, but does that necessitate gratitude for the hardship itself? I think not. What kind of God would expect such?
My point? How can gratitude be all or nothing? Is the only option to gratitude, ingratitude? Or, as in most things in life and spirit, can gratitude include a range and spectrum of feeling and expression? Can I just be a little thankful, even if I’m not all in, even on Thanksgiving Day? Is it possible for genuine gratitude to co-exist with genuine frustration and disappointment? Is it possible to be thankful for some, but not all?
And, might God actually appreciate, even respect, our honesty? Might God find pleasure in our genuine gratitude, while sharing in our griefs and suffering?
So, on this 2020 Thanksgiving Day, I am truly and sincerely thankful…ish. I’m am deeply thankful to God for so much, and for so many. For the rest – for all that I’m less than grateful for – I’m praying for patience and endurance.