Pastor’s Perspective – November 2014
It is not always easy to find reasons to be thankful. Every year around the Thanksgiving table I ask my children to tell me what they are thankful for. This is a tradition that many of you are familiar with. We ask the young to search their memories for a reason to be thankful, to be grateful, and to be appreciative of what they have and who they are. Some kids are quicker than others to share the things that they are thankful about, some of it is personality, but much of it is based on age. Pre-teens usually give the best answers as they are old enough to expect the question and young enough to care about your approval of their answer.
Unfortunately each year many of the adults who ask the question are reluctant to answer it for themselves. We don’t always know what we are thankful for. We know what we are supposed to say, but there are times in our lives when, even though we know the answer, we don’t really feel the answer. I write this article to you, the ones who know that they are supposed to be grateful for the grace of God in Jesus Christ, but can’t quite face the difficulties of life, work and ministry.
The first thing to remember is that you were not born with a thankful heart. In other words thanksgiving is not natural to us. While your babies certainly appreciate your care, few look up from their bottle with a wink and a “thumbs up.” I have never received applause at the conclusion of the evening meal. Furthermore Hallmark does not make cards that say thanks for providing a roof over my head and three square meals a day (they do however make a variety of cards that say “thanks for the lovely card”).
All kidding aside; the greatest gifts that we receive are usually the ones that we are most likely to take for granted. It is quite literally built into us to assume access to the important things while placing our greatest appreciation on the least important aspects of life. This is why kids thank you for the i-tunes gift card, but rarely thank you for dinner. One is unexpected, while the other is assumed.
Thanksgiving is a learned behavior. Some of the most important things about us are taught to us. Think about your tastes in art and music. People are not born with an appreciation for art or music. The music that you enjoy is something that you were both exposed to and taught to enjoy. You probably have a part in your brain that is wired to fondly remember the music of your childhood, no matter how “bad” it was. Admit it; you can still remember the moment when you first heard your favorite song. It doesn’t matter if the song was “Heartbreak Hotel” “Stairway to Heaven” or “The Macarena,” your response will betray your upbringing. Why? Because regardless of what I want people to think I have chosen to be, my tastes have more to do with how I was raised than what I have chosen for myself. So it is with an attitude of appreciation and thanksgiving.
People who had loving parents have a hard time understanding how grateful they should be for that great gift. People who were blessed with access to adequate food and water will never quite comprehend how rare these gifts actually are in the universal scope of things. If, however, the emergency broadcasting system interrupts the broadcast on the night of the big game then “nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen…” We live with the miracle of satellite cellular phones that allow us instantaneous access to almost anyone and anything, and yet we still find a way to complain about a bad signal or slow access. The problem with learning to be thankful is that we focus not on the things that we have, but on the things we need or desire.
This is why we have to strive to be thankful. This is why the scripture commands us to be thankful. This is why we have set aside a day for national thanksgiving, because we all too easily forget the blessings that we have received.
Once we acknowledge that thanksgiving is not our default setting then it is easier to reset our minds and create the list of things that we are thankful for. Remember, thankfulness is not based on the things that we have, but on the people that we are. With that in mind we can create our lists based on who we are. Who I am begins with where I have come from. I would not be who I am without my parents and extended family. I grew up in an extended Italian family that showed me love and sometimes caused me pain. I am thankful not because everything and everyone was as I would have desired them to be, not because I have experienced the perfect life (though in their defense it was pretty darned idyllic). I am thankful because they played a primary role in making me who I am. For good or ill I am their reflection and for that I am thankful.
I am thankful for the family that I had a role in creating: my wife and sons. Once again I will acknowledge that no one has a perfect family. Perfection is not necessary in order to be thankful. An attitude of thanksgiving does not demand the delivery of the perfect gift. The thankful heart accepts the imperfect response of love. The thankful heart understands the limits of human frailty and fallibility and appreciates the presence of loved ones and the opportunity to be a part of their lives, even when things do not go the way we expected them to go.
I am thankful for my Church, not because it is the biggest or the best, but because you are willing to walk with me. I am thankful that you have opened your hearts and your homes to us. I am grateful that you have prayed for me and even when you have disagreed with my ideas you have loved me anyways. I am thankful that God has given to us the opportunity to work together to share God’s grace with the world around us, for the world has never needed to hear the message of the gospel more than it does today.
Finally, I am thankful for God in Jesus Christ. In this situation the last is in no ways least. I am thankful that we have received the fullness of God in His Son Jesus Christ. I am thankful that we have been shown the character of God in the love that Jesus showed us in His sacrificial death on the cross. I am thankful that through Him I have been given grace that can bring me to the very presence of God. I am thankful that Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to fill me and prepare me for my daily work. In Jesus we do not have to hedge our bets. We do not have to remind people that things are not perfect. For in Christ we have received the perfect gift. In Jesus we have the ability to be thankful without condition.
So there you have it, my reasons to be thankful. Yours may be different, but essentially creating your list is rather easy. You just have to remember who you are, where you have come from and what your legacy will be, and then infuse it with the work and grace of God in Jesus Christ. Creating the list however has never truly been the problem. Our difficulty with being thankful truly resides in our own inability to receive the love of God and learn to love who we are in Christ.
Once we understand the love and grace of God, then (and only then) can we love ourselves and see the beauty that is woven into our own lives. Then we can see the beauty of our family, friends, and church (no matter how messed up they are). Thanksgiving is what we are asked to give to God, but the greatest gift of thanksgiving is that, through the love of God, God has given to us hearts that can be thankful.