I am currently reading the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. Doing so has challenged me to think a lot about gratefulness and how thanksgiving strengthens our relationship with God and helps us open our spiritual eyes to the art of seeing the beauty that is all around us. This has been a nice reminder for me, because I somehow lost sight of a lot of the wonder I used to find in everything even just four or five years ago.
One thing I noticed in her writing, though, and in life, is that we have a tendency to offer relative thanksgiving; as in, we count a spacious house and clean, running water and shoes and air conditioning as gifts because we are fortunate enough to have/be given them and other people are not. Or we are thankful when we are healthy because we know what it is like to be sick. Or we are thankful for dirty dishes because they were once filled with food. And these are all good things that deserve gratitude. I can’t remember a time when being grateful did not allow me to move toward contentment or bring me closer to the Giver of all good things. But what, then, of those that are on the bottom rung? Those that have nothing against which to compare what they have. Dirty water that makes them sick, dirty food that makes them sick, shelter that hardly covers them, clothes that hardly keep them warm.
Due to my own relative gratitude, when the bottom drops out or when I can’t make sense of what is happening or when i am overwhelmed by the evils of this world and my own tendency to lean into them, the cross becomes commonplace and I begin to tear away from God like a velcro strap on an orthopedic shoe because I have failed to recognize the purpose of suffering.
Then, when I see or hear of thankfulness in places like this:
it astounds and confuses me. Certainly beauty resides in these places, and certainly, something can be said for the community impoverished groups raise up around themselves. But as far as gratitude is concerned, I think these people constantly put into practice a secret that I repeatedly forget.
The summer after college, a friend and I spent a month in Sri Lanka teaching English to the leaders of a local orphanage. While there, we asked each of them to identify their favorite day of the year. As an example, we mentioned Christmas (because of Jesus) and our birthday (because we get presents and can do what we want). One very wise 21 year-old immediately humbled me when he answered that he could not pick a favorite day because God gave them all, the good and the bad.
His response closely parallels Job’s in Job 2:10. At God’s admission, Satan had stricken Job with sores and killed nearly his entire family. Naturally, Job’s wife told him to curse God and die. “But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”
Over and over when I see unfathomable pain or cruel injustice or even when I feel a longing for a perfect life in my small and shallow discomforts, I ask myself what is this for? And because I don’t understand, I count my blessings to ease my mind and hope it will sustain.
Except I think I’ve been missing the point. The way I see it, my discord with the present troubles about which I so easily lament is a sign that I have been made for a perfect life. And if that is true, if God really has planted eternity in the human heart, then I should rejoice that I can see the evidence of it. Suffering itself should be a reason for joy because I know the God that breathes life into dust exists and continues to breathe and form and create. I AM, is. And as He is, He patiently, meticulously, wisely, intertwines storylines – all leading up to the grand resolution of the revelation of Christ. God has given what God has given, but GOD has GIVEN. His wisdom and sovereignty are unfathomable.
What is more, this kind of joy is not strictly for the future (though we do eagerly await the glory of Christ’s coming) but is also for now because Jesus has declared it finished. Our present evil? Conquered. Our present brokenness? Healed. Our present life? Sealed. With the exception of Jesus’ actual second appearance, everything that needs to happen to ensure our eternal peace and joy has already been done. These things I have spoken to you so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
What of gratefulness, then? Like I said, I think I’ve been missing the point. Comparing what I have against what others do not, or even being grateful for what I do have somehow doesn’t cut it. My abundant living, my overwhelming blessing, my pressed down, shaken together, and running over – is Jesus. He opens the gates to His father’s house, and nothing is hidden from me there. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ…
God is good, and God is love. Therefore, everything that comes from His hand must be good love.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”