Ever learned another language?
Doing so forces you to confront what you thought you knew about your native language. I remember when I was first learning French and always got confused about where to put the adjectives. But it’s not like that in English, I tried to complain. Apparently it is. I just didn’t know there were explicit rules about adjective order. I suppose I just took those for granted because everyone always said it that way. Think “big bad wolf” as opposed to “bad big wolf.” Yeah, I guess it’s a thing.
I am or I have?
When I was forced to learn Spanish because a certain King sent us to Central America (his idea of a joke after I had spent five years learning French), my brain was really tired for a long time. I kept getting confused by the use of the verbs to be and to have. In English, we use to be with age: I am 25 (plus a few, but that’s not the point). In Spanish it’s: Tengo 25 años. This literally translates to: I have 25 years. French (and many other languages) also use to have to indicate age instead of to be: J’ai 25 ans.
It doesn’t stop there. In English we usually say we are (to be) hungry, but other languages use what translates to “we have hunger.” Same with “I am cold” which becomes “I have cold” (meaning I feel cold, not I have an illness). As I understand it, in English we use to have primarily to indicate possessions, while to be is reserved for describing characteristics or states (of being, not of the U.S.A). But honestly, I think we’ve all gotten pretty fast and loose with language these days, mixing up our to bes and to haves like it’s nobody’s business. Maybe this means we’ve just gotten so used to saying it one way, we rarely stop to think about the underlying meanings?
I am or I am?
But wait – there’s more! Spanish has not one but two ways to say “I am” – with the verbs estar and ser. They both translate as verbs expressing to be. Confused yet?
[You’re very patient and I promise I am coming to my point.]
I am thankful for what I have
and I have thanks for being thankful
Recently I’ve found myself feeling so very thankful, which is a really great thing since science has proven this to actually make us happier. That’s right: being thankful actually makes us happier, even when we might not think we have a lot to be thankful about. Sure, it’s November, so it’s kind of par for the course to think about thankfulness this time of year. However, the past six months of my life have included an intense period of pruning (which, incidentally, caused me to have losses and to be humbled), but also a season of immense gratitude in seeing God answer prayers spanning almost a decade.
I know how many times I became frustrated over those years, begging and pleading him to answer us. And yet perhaps because of the lengthy amount of time it took, the answers are so so sweet and beautiful! (Maybe I wouldn’t have even appreciated this time half as much, had the battle not been so hard fought, but that’s a topic for another day.)
These answered prayers have tainted every aspect of my life with a glow of thankfulness, even despite the recent pruning. I don’t just have thankfulness, I am thankful. Not only that, I’m thankful with the ser verb and the estar verb.
What are you thankful to be?
As I was thinking this all through, I was struck by the normal conversations that happen around Thanksgiving meals. You know, the obligatory “what are you thankful for?” question and answer sessions. How do you normally answer those? Maybe for a new car or house, or other possessions (to have). When they were little, my kids always fluctuated between being thankful for mom/dad and their favorite toy. Both are have statements and apparently quite interchangeable for a four-year-old.
With age, their responses have grown to include fewer possessions and more states of being, such as being thankful to be in the U.S. (for the one who didn’t exactly fall in love with Nicaragua) or for being accepted to her first-choice college. This happens to all of us, I think, because maturity brings clarity about so many things… especially when we can stand on the other side and see a past hurt for what it now brings.
I wonder what would happen if we switched the verb in this typical Thanksgiving question and fast-forwarded past the easy answers?
I’m thankful to be…
…loved, because it really is what I need most.
…in mourning, because it means I love someone deeply.
…in pain, because it molds me to be who I was created to be.
…weak, because my Savior is made strong in my weakness.
…in need, because I get the freedom to let Christ meet my needs.
…wherever God has placed me, because his plan is so much better than mine.
So, yes – I’m thankful for my husband, my kids, my parents and siblings, new friends and neighbors, the roof over our heads, the food in our bellies, and the jobs that keep the lights on. But I’m also thankful for the pain that shaped us, the tears that cleansed us, and the struggles that bind us together.
Thankful to be Conversation Starters
Want to take your conversations farther around the table? Try asking questions like these (some of which I drew from Jennie Allen’s Thanksgiving Conversation Cards):
- What have you learned the hard way in your life?
- When you look back on the past year, in what area of your life have you grown the most?
- Has anything happened to you this year that you’re so grateful for, not even writing 10,000 thank you notes would feel adequate?
- Who or what exceeded your expectations this year?
- What memory are you most thankful for?
- Tell me about a person who has had a significant positive impact on your childhood/education/career/growth.
- Where did you find hope amidst pain or suffering this year?
- What relationship are you especially grateful for right now?
- What has a stranger done to benefit your life this year?
- Is there something you’ve taken for granted, but are so grateful for that you really wouldn’t to lose?