"Pollyannas, the whole lot of ya!" he bellows when we focus on the joys and pleasures of our lives. "Yeah, I know the Scriptures say, 'In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you' (1 Thessalonians 5:18). But can't you see we've got problems? Serious problems? How are you going to whip up a pretty chiffon of thankfulness when your ingredients are rotten?"
Before we let the little rascal ruin the pumpkin pie, let's listen to him. For all his whining, for all his nay-saying, let's stifle the impulse to muzzle him and actually listen.
Are we supposed to ignore that violence in the Middle East has exploded yet again, that drugs and guns are everywhere, that desperation is not limited to remote Third World countries but confronts us on the streets of our own hometowns? For one sepia-tinted holiday, are we to shove in a corner the reality that the private lives of those we love (perhaps our own lives) are torn apart by betrayal, rebellion, and loss?
In our church collectively, our numbers swell, and we benefit from positive public relations. But how can we say "all is well in Zion" when those who long to feel like "fellow citizens with the saints" do not feel valued but estranged and misunderstood in wrenching ways that have nothing to do with sin? When the divorce rate is as high among Latter-day Saints as it is in the country at large? When abuse in various forms poisons our membership?
How can we, individually, as believers, as citizens of the world, honestly be grateful in all these things? Does being grateful require us to strap on a blindfold; stick our fingers in our ears and our heads in the sand? The gratitude grinch demands an answer.
Having heard him out, we see the grinch does have a point. Yes, all these problems exist. Yes, they deserve acknowledgment. Yes, we need to address them with vigor and courage.
Notice I am not following this with a "but."
No "but it's time to turn our attentions to the sunny side...."
No "but that handful of woes pales in comparison with these benefits...."
When we stand hip deep in calamity and still say "I am grateful," we begin to glimpse how powerful the concept of gratitude can be. That's where the grinch's fussiness can take us.
When considering serious problems, "confessing God's hand in all things" (D&C 59:21) leaves us two views of God. In one, God is a bad parent who, scriptural counsel to the contrary, gives his children stones when they ask for bread (see Matthew 7:9). In that case, his "hand in all things" feels like a fist.
In the other view, He transcends (not ignores) the problems and invites us to do the same. We begin to taste hope, to strengthen faith, to develop humility. In that case, his "hand in all things" is a hand of healing. It is not necessarily a hand of curing. As in many New Testament miracles, Jesus meets a seeker crippled in some way and first says, "Thy sins are forgiven thee." Then, having sufficiently annoyed the Pharisees--and to prove the proper order of things--he goes on to heal the physical malady.
Of course, we can't let the grinch really steal the day. Of course, his arguments are just the flip side of the Pollyannaish attitude he decries. But hearing him out yanks us out of cliche. Until we admit, acknowledge, accept (which is not the same as condone), the presence of the shadow, we will never really know or trust the light. We can learn in this season of complexity--of chaos and joy--to sing with the psalmist:
"My tears have been my meat day and night.... Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts; all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me. Yet the Lord will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life.... Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God" (Psalms 42:3, 7-8,11).