‘A little old lady lived all by herself
With a table and chairs and a jug on the shelf.
A wise old man heard her grumble and grouse,
“There’s not enough room in my house.
Wise old man, won’t you help me please?
My house is a squash and a squeeze.”’
So begins one of my favourite children’s books, A Squash and a Squeeze, by The Gruffalo author, Julia Donaldson. Know the feeling? Not enough room. Not enough money for more room. Few and rapidly diminishing material possessions (the jug gets smashed by a flapping chicken)… Pondering one’s (not a) lot in life can be demoralising.
But what to do about it? The wise old man in the story advises the woman to take in her hen, then her goat, followed by her pig and her cow, by which time her house truly is a squash and a squeeze and she’s close to break down. Only then does he tell her to take them all out. This changes nothing for the old woman materially, but it changes everything for her mentally. She becomes grateful for her ‘not enough room’ and gratitude gives her a new perspective.
I’ve been struck by the points at which Jesus gave thanks to God. He didn’t wait for good times to roll in. He gave thanks in the midst or on the cusp of difficult circumstances. Jesus thanked God for life’s basics – bread and wine – knowing that a close friend was about to betray him (Matt. 26). He thanked God for a few loaves and fish when he didn’t have enough to feed a crowd of five thousand, before feeding the five thousand with that same ‘not enough’ (Matt. 14:19-21). Jesus is neither overwhelmed by lack nor diminished by generosity. He prays and he gives. He thanks God and God gives back.
No doubt there are times when it’s okay to grumble and grouse, but we’d be fools to stop there. If the loaves and fish are anything to go by, expressing gratitude to God can not only change our perspective, it can also change reality.