An ancient Jewish law called shmita (pronounced shmee-tah) proclaimed that every seven years, the land must lie fallow.  All work, including plowing, planting, and harvesting, was forbidden.   It paralleled the observation of the sabbath.  Each week, the sabbath was considered a sacred day of rest, a day of study and reflection.  And this practice tracked the Creation story in the Book of Genesis.  God’s work of creation took six days.  On the seventh day, He rested. 

The law governing shmita assumed the land had its own separate relationship with God.  People did not own the land, they were merely stewards, like Adam in the Garden of Eden.  The shmita year was a sabbath for the land.

I have always been fascinated by imagining people as stewards rather than owners.  If the land did not belong to them, then whatever it produced was an offering, a gift.  And if we associate receiving gifts with being grateful, we can reasonably assume that shmita deepened a sense of gratitude for the land and its bounty. 

With shmita in mind, shifting from ownership to stewardship, consider this evocative thought experiment:  imagine being the steward of everything in your life.  What if nothing in your life belonged to you?  Bear with me.  Let’s start with your house or apartment, your car, the money in your bank account, all your personal assets and personal belongings.  Imagine that none of these belong to you.  That each of these is a gift bestowed to you.   

But let’s go further.  Consider that everything you built, created, or designed, everything you ever wrote, every project you ever worked on, that none of these belong to you.  They are gifts too.  You get my drift.  But let’s go even further.  Consider every interesting insight or idea you ever had, every talent and ability you feel you possess.  Every feeling or epiphany that ever got evoked inside you. Imagine that none of these belong to you either.  

That’s quite an impressive list.  Perhaps you can add some things I neglected to mention.  If none of it belongs to you, then everything has been given as a gift.  I like to think of these received gifts as lumps of clay.  And our task is to transform those lumps into works of art.  We are master artisans working to create a meaningful and beautiful life, filled with joy, wonder, happiness, and love while we negotiate life’s formidable challenges. 

None of the materials we work with, the lumps of clay and the implements we use, belong to us.  From physical possessions to internal thoughts and feelings.  From soup to nuts.  The whole kit and kaboodle.  They are all received gifts.  Now here’s the rub:  if they are gifts, there is no limit to the gratitude we can experience for our received bounty.  Are you still with me? 

The salient issue is not how far you take this thought experiment. It’s the shift in mindset that counts.  The transition from ownership to stewardship, the movement away from I, me, mine, towards embracing what’s been entrusted to us. 

How willing are you to engage in this mindset shift?  Does it enhance your experience of being grateful?  Do you notice any resistance?  If so, stay with it.  Be curious about the resistance.  Move closer to or get inside it if you can.  What is the resistance telling you? 

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Neal Aponte

Neal Aponte is a licensed clinical psychologist with over 30 years of experience providing psychotherapy for adults, adolescents and children. Read more here.