Rev. Katherine Todd
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into God’s presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to the Lord, bless God’s name.
For the Lord is good;
God’s steadfast love endures forever,
and God’s faithfulness to all generations.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
In this season, we are reminded to give thanks.
Giving thanks is something we know we should do. On some level, we all know we are blessed, but in the day to day, we find it exceedingly difficult to stay in a grateful place.
Some days, things seem to fall into place; the road rises to meet us! Other days we find ourselves face to face with injustice, with short-sighted and inconsiderate behavior, with quandaries in which we feel forced to choose between the lessor of two evils…
And even when our situations aren’t so dire or discouraging, we’re often just in a funky mood because we had to drive behind someone slowly on the highway, or wait long in line, or make extra trips to the store because what we wanted wasn’t in stock…
From the simple things to the deeply complex, we find ourselves mired in negative thought patterns.
So if you will, I’m gonna give you several minutes to briefly jot down all the things that are bugging you today – big and small things. Nobody needs to see your list, unless you want them too; this is just an exercise we’re doing for ourselves.
So if you will right now, actually take the next three minutes, and jot down all the things that have got you down or angry or worried.
It is exceedingly difficult to stay in position of gratitude, but gratitude it turns out is one of the markers of resilience. Gratitude actually has the power to drive out depression and fear. It turns out that anger, fear, and depression, to name a few, cannot thrive in an atmosphere of gratitude.
So it would seem that giving thanks is the chicken soup for a tired soul.
As my son Caleb was growing up, he struggled to say thank you. In his early years he often forgot, and if I reminded him, he would get upset and the gift-giver would become uncomfortable. No one wants a forced thank you! We want folks to mean what they say. Otherwise the words feel hollow.
But waiting till we feel thankful is also a danger because gratitude at its root is a spiritual discipline. Discipline is something few of us want. I know I certainly don’t. But there are disciplines that strengthen and ground us.
We discipline ourselves to eat regular meals
So that our bodies will be well and able to support us.
We discipline ourselves to get good sleep
So that we have energy and a good state of mind and body for the coming day.
We discipline ourselves to not speak words in anger
So that we don’t burn bridges and create divides between us and the people in our lives.
Gratitude in its best form is also a discipline, a spiritual discipline.
Gratitude becomes lifegiving to us, when we do it whether or not we feel anything. In fact, it is most powerful when we discipline ourselves to give thanks in the midst of trial and adversity.
Our own Phylliss Moret tells the story of supervising other supervisors. They would come to her complaining about so & so, offering a litany of shortcomings. And after listening for a bit, she would say, “Well if they are that bad, then why are they still here? Should we let them go?” And at this, the disgruntled supervisors would quickly say, “But, we need them because…..” For all the frustration, there was also so much good, and when it came down to it, the good often outweighed the bad. The complaints were only part of the picture. Usually there was a host of good that the supervisors were failing to articulate.
The same is true of our lives. Talk to any one of us on a given day, and we can give you a litany of the many things wrong; of the challenges; of our worries, concerns, and fears. But in this same moment, we are standing on a wealth of immeasurable blessing that we are taking for granted.
A friend of mine illustrated this so well in a facebook post. She posted a list on notebook paper equating her complaints with their converse, blessings-in-disguise.
This is why gratitude as a spiritual discipline is so very important. It is precisely because we become blind to the blessings and gifts in our lives. We need the routine task of giving thanks in order to wake us up to the immensity of blessing in our lives!
So at this moment, I want to give you another 3 minutes to consider your complaints one by one and to write down the blessings that lie just under each complaint. And if you finish while there’s still time, just go hog wild & start a list of the things in your life you are grateful for.
I have asked you to do this exercise not to shame your for your unhappy feelings and thoughts. Those feelings and thoughts are legitimate. They are important. Our negative feelings are there to teach and guide us. We feel what we feel, and then we process them in light of our values to decide how we will respond to them. But in and of themselves, feelings are neither good nor bad. They may be uncomfortable. They may be deeply upsetting. But when befriended, they can give us insight into ourselves. They are one of the many fabulous tools God has given us to navigate our mysterious selves and this mysterious world.
So please don’t take away any shame.
Rather, I hope you will take away a greater awareness of how you’re feeling – the happy, the sad, and the ugly – and of the many blessings in your life.
Life is not one thing. It is a mix of events – both beautiful and tragic; of feelings – both highs and lows; of growth – both painful and invigorating.
Following Christ in this life does not mean we will be always blissful and that nothing bad will ever happen to us. But Christ teaches us to give thanks in all circumstances. For in all things, there is much to give thanks for. And when we do, we unlock new perspective and strength.
As we leave the season of Thanksgiving and approach Advent, I invite you to begin your own spiritual discipline of giving thanks. Do it however you like: keep a gratitude journal, keep adding to a list, speak the things you’re grateful for at mealtimes, share three things you’re grateful for with a spouse or a friend each day… But whatever you choose, stick to it. See it through. Persevere.
And let us see what God can do
in and through hearts
that are AWAKE to the profound gifts and blessings of God in our lives.
French novelist Marcel Proust writes, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
May God grant us the ability to see as God sees,
with new eyes.
And who knows,
we may find our whole world transformed.
Thanks be to God!