The recent tsunami of corporatized and consumerized thanksgiving always has profound reverberations throughout culture. Yet, the positive affectations seem to recede as quickly as the monster wave came in, leaving behind the remnants and wreckage of a half-hearted experience of real gratitude. What if we lived lives overwhelmed by the rhythm of thanks, ensconced in a posture of gratitude? What might we gain?
As we enter the Christmas season, it should be a time for followers of Jesus to be re-ignited with reminders of our deepest reason for gratitude. Yet the question lingers, if Jesus Christ, the embodiment of God’s grace and love, has come to us, undeserved, why do we still find ourselves with divided hearts? We cannot give thanks while simultaneously desiring to fill ourselves with everything to which we feel we are entitled. There simply isn’t enough room in our hearts for both.
Ironically, for me, the distractor of my gratitude is not entitlement but rather a sense of misshapen contentment, one that can border on resignation or even passivity. Contentment in its purest sense releases our will into God’s will, but it can also release the desire to actively engage the hard work of gratitude. A life of gratitude is not just thankful for what has been given, but more importantly, for what has been withheld.
If our paradigm shifts and our baseline is reset to the reality that THIS IS ALL A GIFT, then we can truly say, “Thank you, God”, even though He has withheld something that we desperately wanted. We can say and eventually believe as John Newton wrote, “All shall work together for good; everything is needful that He sends; nothing is needful that He withholds."
This rhythm of thanking God even in the loss of expectation begins to retrain our minds to recognize Him sometimes withholding not just the things we desire but blessedly, the things we most fear. We start to blaze a new trail through the overgrown fields of our entitled self-importance when we recognize that we are all living lives full of more grace than we could ever fathom. When we work intentionally to see God’s hand of protection covering us, His love sparing us the most irreparable sorrow, we find ourselves less likely to mourn our losses and more likely to count our gains, namely, Him.
In this process of re-narrating our story through the lens of gratitude, we look back on the best and worst chapters of our lives and see (perhaps for the first time) that God was and is habitually infused throughout them all. And we realize that we have been brought to the present moment through His work, not our own. “Thus far has the Lord helped us“ said the Israelites, marking their epiphany of thanks by stacking stones, “ebenezers". And in the remembering and the thanking, the hardened heart softens and trusts and the failing feet are emboldened to walk forward into an unknown future because of a known God's unfailing past. The rhythm of gratitude sets in motion a mechanism of trusting and hoping and finding one’s self finally at peace. And lips that once spoke “my will be done” now sing “it is well with my soul”.
"IT IS WELL" by BETHEL MUSIC & HORATIO SPAFFORD