Taking something for granted means that you assume it will always be there. On the whole it’s very easy to take several things for granted living in the United States; running water, telephone service, electricity, food on the store shelves and the like. Even other “developed” countries can’t always keep these services going like we do in the U.S. Because we consistently have so many amenities, there is an assumption they will always be there when we need them. So then if the electric goes off for several hours, we can panic and think we can’t survive without it – but before the electric went off we weren’t even thinking about electricity and how easy it makes life to live.
I use the example of electricity because our electricity went out in August for almost a whole day. It happened at 9:00 PM, just as I was about to watch a movie. Since I couldn’t do that, I just went to bed thinking the power will be back on any minute. I woke up about 1:30 in the morning and it still wasn’t on. I started to think “What if the power is out all over the country?” I began imagining terrorist plots and mass pandemonium to the point that I almost called my parents in Ohio to see if they had power. I refrained and tried to calm myself down. Eventually the power came back on the next day, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so relieved about having electricity. I suddenly became very thankful for all the benefits electricity provides in my life.
This matter of being thankful for what we have has been on my mind lately, and I believe it’s a very appropriate issue for strengthening families. Nothing upsets the typical parent more than an ungrateful child. When children take things for granted, we call them “spoiled” and rightly sermonize about how much we sacrifice so they can enjoy those piano lessons and wear such nice clothes and eat all that healthy food. Parents usually feel like they don’t get enough acknowledgements from their kids about these sorts of things. Sometimes we’re tempted to just take all the things our kids take for granted away from them until they can fully appreciate what they have.
In reality though, that approach is putting the proverbial cart before the horse. The best approach is to first take a strong and searching look at our own attitudes of gratitude. For just as we can see our kids as “spoiled” there is somebody out there who could say the same of you and me. Indeed, our children not only model our behavior but also our attitudes. If we act spoiled so will they. Hence, this is how developing an attitude in which you don’t take things for granted can strengthen your family.
I’ve been paying more attention to the mantra of “don’t take life for granted” since I met Billy about one year ago. Billy has a condition that slowly has taken away his ability to move. In grade school, Billy could walk and function almost normally. As he grew up, though, his condition became more active and he slowly lost nerve function to his muscles. By high school age, Billy was confined to a wheelchair. Now, he needs help with every aspect of his daily life.
Over the year that I have known Billy, he has struggled to keep even what he used to take for granted – his ability to speak, see, and hear. The nerve deterioration has left the muscles in his eyes weakened and unable to focus. The muscles connecting his inner ear don’t function properly, and forming words in his mouth takes concentrated effort. He gets out of breath easily because his diaphragm is weakening. Billy says that he says to himself now “If I could only see…” whereas two years ago he said “If I could only use my hands…” Ten years ago, it was “If I could only walk…”
Throughout Billy’s ordeal, he’s had to learn how to accept what he has now rather than focus on what he has lost. As a result, the main message he tries to get across to people is “take nothing for granted.” When he hears people complain that they have a headache or they’ve had a long work day, Billy recognizes they are taking way too much for granted in their lives. Billy tells me that most people don’t see what they have. Another way to look at it is that people don’t realize what they could lose.
So as we approach the holiday of thanksgiving, let’s be mindful of what we have. Be thankful and don’t take anything good in your life for granted. Fully embrace the relationships, abilities, and blessings you have TODAY. Don’t wait until tomorrow.