Let’s be honest: gratitude isn’t always a given for everyone around the proverbial table. I confess, there are times when my thoughts, feelings, or words are less than thankful. Just this past weekend I was faced with an occasion where the topic of discussion was thankfulness and as everyone shared blessings for which to celebrate, all I could do was silently sulk on recently losing something priceless and irretrievable. A pretty sad sight I was—Pity Party for 1. To pose as being thankful in a moment when my heart wasn’t there would’ve felt downright fake. At the risk of scrooging Thanksgiving, sometimes the assumed gratitude we so ceremoniously attach to the holiday can feel like forcefully injecting a syringe full of high fructose syrup into a frozen hard Butterball. That’s not how it works! I’m not saying we throw out the supposed reason for the season. But I wonder if we’ve made thankfulness into just another adorned dish alongside the green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, and Sister Schubert’s dinner rolls—waiting to be consumed and later bemoaned for overindulgence? Or, is it still that weathered oak table hidden beneath the bright decorative cloth—holding it all up not just once or twice a year on special occasions, but day after day after day? Why is it that we seem to overemphasize gratitude on this national high holy day? Is thankfulness just a moral centerpiece we pull out from storage, dust off, and display this time of year to further inflate our egos—look how grateful I am (!!!), or is it a means of temporarily humbling ourselves before we go crazy in Amazon Priming others’ affections? Thank you God for free shipping! In deep-frying our increasingly overly-processed gratitude, we’ve domesticated it into just another commodity to be bought, sold, and consumed instead of being our daily response to grace.
Well so much for inviting Pastor Pessimist over to join in the festivities… I’m not saying I won’t celebrate as much as the next person. So long as history repeats itself and I haven’t lost my love of food, I’ll be glutton for punishment. But beyond the turkey trot, the question remains: Is our thankfulness just a sign of the season, or a more fixed foundational part of our daily lives? It’s not a matter of whether or not we should be thankful. Even amidst my first world problems, there’s no doubt in my mind that I have more than much for which to give thanks and praise to God. This past week (long story short) my phone was stolen and with it I lost six years worth of pictures, including the birth of my boys, baptisms and weddings, relationships and ministries from the two churches I served in Nebraska, family vacations, friends, cheeky random pics, my gorgeous bride. ALL OF IT GONE. (I know. I should’ve backed it up to Heaven, er, I mean The Cloud.) Needless to say, I’m pissed off at myself. Yet, in spite of feeling robbed of all those personal memories, I still have with me (most) all of those subjects. With the same breath I lament this irretrievable loss, I must also express my overwhelming gratitude to God for these whom the Spirit has brought into my life, the experiences we’ve shared, and the memories that can still be recalled. I am blessed. Truly blessed. Blessed beyond belief. I’ve been gifted with a wife who loves me more than I understand. Two boys who fill my heart with as much if not more joy and happiness than they drive me crazy, and that’s saying a lot. 😉 Our families who love and support us along the way. A faith community that is nurturing. Work that is both tremendously enjoyable and exceedingly fulfilling. Friendships that are mutual and sustaining. Health that allows me the freedom to do just about anything. Means and resources to care comfortably for my family. The gift of faith that forever binds me to a Crucified and Resurrected Messiah, who loves, forgives, and remains with me always, in spite of my daily blunders and endless bouts of sinfulness.
So long as I have all, any of those blessings, or even just the breath in my lungs, the only appropriate response is thankfulness. God, who is good and gracious—giving us all that we have and hold in our lives (not to be confused with a spiritual Santa Claus, we would most certainly all number the naughty list)—is always the primary actor in this relationship. This means that God and God’s blessings are not, in any way, dependent upon us, but ever precede our supplication or gratitude. Our response is just that—a response. Even our faith (trust) in Christ Jesus, which is itself a gift from the Holy Spirit, when acted upon is a response to what has already been done on our behalf and freely given to us—with no strings attached. Our whole lives are but a simple (not to be confused with simplistic) response to the Triune God—Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer—who is the Ground of our very being. If ever our response of gratitude becomes less than daily, if not minute to minute, than we have misunderstood/misappropriated from whom all blessings flow. Thankfulness is more than just an temporal, occasional, or seasonal response. It is a fundamental part of our identity as receivers of God’s gifts. We are not grateful in order to gain more blessings, but as a result of all those we already receive by the endless grace of God. At a most basic level, every breath we take is not just a gift from God but is also an opportunity for us to respond with praise and thanksgiving. I’m not trying to pu pu platter all over your bird feast. Nor am I saying drain off the excess gratitude before passing around the gravy boat. What if, instead of making such a big deal about it on this one day and treating it like turkey sandwich leftovers the other 364, we all were to begin each day with a word of thanks? What affect might it have on us, our relationships, and communities, if we were to search out and utilize every opportunity to share our gratitude? Might it transform the world to resemble more the kingdom of God? Feast on the abundance of God’s rich blessings not just this week, but each and every day, and may your response of thankfulness be just as regular. We all are so blessed. Thanks be to God!
– Pastor Andrew