Choosing gratitude even when it’s not easy

One morning this week I woke up early and headed to the kitchen.

I sliced peppers and onions. I dipped beef in flour and salt and pepper and sautéed it. I placed the meat and veggies in a crockpot with a can of crushed tomatoes, beef broth, a little soy sauce, and more than a little garlic.

Then I turned the crockpot on and finished getting everyone ready for the school day. I hugged our older son as he went out to catch the bus, dropped our younger son off at school, and headed to work.

As frenzied as the morning had been, I felt good thinking about the warm meal that would welcome us home that night. Throughout the day, occasionally I would remind myself that at least I didn’t have to think about dinner.

Dinner would be waiting for me at home.

At the end of the day, I opened the door, expecting to inhale the fragrant scent of pepper steak, one of our favorite crockpot meals. I could practically taste it. But as I walked into the kitchen, I didn’t smell anything.

The crockpot had never turned on. A fuse had blown, and the crockpot never started cooking. The beautiful meat and vegetables had been sitting on the kitchen counter all day. We had to throw it all away.

I was so disappointed. But as I dug into the freezer for some meatballs, cooked a quick Swedish meatball sauce, and heated up mashed potatoes and frozen green beans, I found myself thinking how fortunate we are.

When I come home to a failed crockpot meal, no one in my household goes hungry. Yes, I might be frustrated or sad or even angry with myself for not double-checking the outlet. But I have plenty of food to cook for my family. Everyone ate a warm, filling meal that night.

I found myself feeling grateful for all we have. What if that meal in the crockpot had been the last food in the house? What if we were just barely making it meal to meal? What if I looked inside an empty fridge and pantry and had to tell my children we had nothing to eat that night?

We have enough. We have more than enough.

In that moment, I tried to shift my focus from frustration to gratitude. Gratitude, of course, is not automatic. It’s deliberate. It’s intentional. How many times have I, as a mother, said, “What do you say…?” to a child?

And, though it’s easy to be grateful when the sun is shining and everything is humming along beautifully, it may be more important to be grateful when we hit a bump in the road.

“A single, ‘Blessed be God!’ when things go wrong is of more value than a thousand acts of thanksgiving when things are to our liking,” said St. John of Avila.

As we look forward to Thanksgiving, may God give us the patience and strength to embrace gratitude even in the challenging moments.

Rita Buettner

Rita Buettner

Rita Buettner is a wife, working mother and author of the Catholic Review's Open Window blog. She and her husband adopted their two sons from China, and Rita often writes about topics concerning adoption, family and faith.

Rita also writes The Domestic Church, a featured column in the Catholic Review. Her writing has been honored by the Catholic Press Association, the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association and the Associated Church Press.