I love Thanksgiving. It's the holiday that has the gravitational pull to draw families together as much as Christmas without the pressure of buying gifts for each other. It's usually accompanied with mild weather...relatively speaking. And it's driven by a spirit of gratitude, something we're all too prone to neglect. Thanks. Gratitude. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the word used for "thanks" carries the visual imagery of God's hand. In the New Testament, the word is related to the concept of "grace." Biblically speaking, giving thanks is the acknowledgement of God's gracious hand in our lives.
How have you seen God's gracious hand in your life lately?
Let's admit it. Sometimes that question is easier to answer than others. There are seasons in our lives when our hearts are overflowing with a sense of gratitude over the blessings and providences that are so evident and abundant. On the other hand, there are stretches when counting blessings feels more like a discipline, a slow and deliberate admission without the warm fuzzies. Those are the times when praise really does feel like a "sacrifice" (cf. Heb. 13:15), giving thanks as something that actually costs us something. And yet, I would submit that grinding out gratitude in those seasons, although not enjoyable at first, sure beats the alternative of hardening up in bitterness and unbelief.
Don't Feel Fine
A couple weeks ago, I came across a friend's Facebook status that didn't sit too well with me. Ok, it saddened me. I know, I know, I'm not the only one this happens to. It wasn't political or overtly offensive. It sounds like he was just bemoaning the fact that terrible things keep happening in this world without any light at the end of the tunnel. It was an emotionally-driven perspective that in the process threw shade on what the Bible calls the "blessed hope" -- a hope that I hold near and dear to my heart. Without quoting his post, let's just say that as I read it and the ensuing comments, the chorus of a popular song from the 90s (or was it the 80s?) came to mind:
It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine. (R.E.M.)
I can't say whether my friend's post came from disappointment, frustration, anger, or arrogance. But what I can say is that when I see and hear evidence of an increasingly broken humanity, I don't feel fine. I saw my friend's Facebook status the same week when my mind and heart were still reeling from the news of the Sutherland Springs church shooting. And on top of that, it was also the week I heard that my first cousin's second son was killed in a car accident. A senior in high school with every bit of potential ahead of him.
When faced with life's tragedies both far and away, we can choose one of several responses. Naturally, we have fight or flight mechanisms built in us and modeled by others around us. We can attack in bitterness and anger or withdraw in hopelessness and hardness. But I think the Bible gives us another option in this simple yet saving discipline of giving thanks, acknowledging God's gracious hand in our lives even against all appearances.
...In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:18, NKJV
I don't think this is about sweeping things under the rug in willful ignorance. Nor is it about feeling fine about life's brokenness. Instead, it's about shifting the weight of our focus, finding meaning not so much in what we've lost but in God's gracious providence in the midst of what we've lost. It's there. He's there. And when we realize it, we'll find ourselves more than conquerors through Him who loved us because nothing, truly nothing, can separate us from His love (cf. Rom. 8:37-39).
Whether this is a season that gratitude is overflowing or is something we have to choose, may we all find the capacity to recognize God's gracious hand in our lives. In spite of, because of, in the midst of whatever life may throw at us, may we be blessed to yet acknowledge God's blessings.