Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17
This seems like fairly simple, straight-forward advice...especially on the day before Thanksgiving. But, I invite you to really try living this tomorrow. We might be thankful for family, but the truth is also that no one knows how to push your buttons in the exact right order to annoy you quite like your family. To rejoice always might make us a bit skeptical. We might wonder what exactly is Mr. Smiley Von-Smileson really hiding? No one is happy all the time, especially after that comment Uncle Frank just made that was insensitive on so many levels. How about we just rejoice when everyone is out of the house and the holiday is over?
Speaking of which, we might try praying without ceasing, and on Thanksgiving it might go like this, "Please God, help me make it through this meal." Or "Please God, give me wisdom to not talk about the Health Care Act with certain members at the table." Or "Please God...just please."
But it is the third piece of Paul's advice that always strikes me. Give thanks in all circumstances. You would think there would be some circumstances where gratitude cannot be found. I am thinking the Philippians right now. Seeing the devastation on T.V. breaks my heart. Only I also know that there are families there that are grateful to be alive, while deeply grieving the lost of friends. I might think about debilitating disease, but I have also found some incredibly joyful people facing some very awful physical pain.
Then, it was pointed out this week by Ed Dobson, that the passage has a very important preposition, "in"...NOT "for". I don't have to be thankful for every situation. That would not be honest to God who knows me better than I know myself (see my last post). Rather, I can be thankful in the midst of even difficult moments. Of course this requires us to be aware of what we are looking and how we are looking at things. If all I do is look at the negative, chances are I may have a difficult time in that moment to find something to be grateful for. But if you look around enough, even if you feel like you are in the dark, there might be some faint glimmer of light to be grateful even in the midst of the darkness.
I think this is a practice. You don't just go out and buy gratitude. It is cultivated like a tomato plant. Like that ruby, red tomato plant, it takes time to grow and bear good fruit. One day is not enough to really taste the fruits of cultivating gratitude. It takes weeks, months, and sometimes years. But, I think there are ways to do this.
First, be specific. Rather than just saying, "Family"...name something more descriptive. Your son's sense of humor, your wife's sarcastic remark this morning about the weather, your daughters endless joy.
Second, be intentional. If you just think, "Oh, I can do that," without making a plan or appointment to carry this out, it will be hard. But if you begin each morning with giving thanks for certain moments the last day or end each night with giving thanks for serendipitous moments, these are intentional practices which can begin to cultivate gratitude.
It will be work ~ like your job or working out or watching your diet. Any practice worth doing will cost us something. But any practice worth doing will also eventually bring some grace-filled moments. I believe if we can be intentional and specific beyond just one day on our calendar, we will sense a trace of God's grace this week and every day we engage the gratitude of life.
Blessings and Happy Thanksgiving ~