Posted by: alliehope | November 29, 2008

Thoughts and Thanksgivings

Another Turkey Day come and gone. The leftovers now sit in the fridge, and some of the Black Friday crazies are sleeping in, sleeping off their consumerist hangover. I am wide awake, musing on the blessings of the last year, and just how much I have to be thankful for.

I started a cheap little notebook of gratitudes, with the goal of writing in three things a day. It’s amazing how taking those thirty seconds shifts my entire perspective. It gets my eyes off of me, off of being a “selfish little clot of ailments” (500 points to whoever supplies the name of the person who said that, since I’m blanking out on who the heck it was). I’m starting to understand that gratitude by its very nature does that, since it’s basically impossible to be grateful and self-centered at the same time.

I become aware, in my moments of gratitude, that there are so many in this world who are far less blessed than I am, who are often far more grateful than I am for the little they have. I’m so convicted by this, as I am by a sign I saw at the Jimmy John’s on Jackson St. the night of the most recent choir rehearsal last week: “The gap between more and enough never closes”.

Maybe, at its heart, gratitude is about recognizing that I have enough for my daily needs, and have so many of my wants met as well. I think back to the Israelite community gathering the manna in the desert, and how the writer of Exodus adds in the comment that “the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Each one had gathered just as much as they needed” (Exodus 16:17b). That one gets me every time, since I see in it a foreshadowing of what Jesus would say in Matthew 6:11, ‘Give us this day our daily bread”, in the familiar King James language.

What I see in this is God’s desire to give us what we need, not just what we think we want, in order that we might come to trust Him. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in what we think we need (which are more often than not merely selfish wants), and we lose sight of just how much has already been given to us. We (at least I) get so tangled up in what’s immediately in front of me that I forget to step back and appreciate the blessings God has given me.

I think about a story attributed to St. Augustine, about a man who had a vision of God. In the man’s vision, God appeared to him and told him He would give him whatever he wanted. So the man writes out a few things, then hands his list to God.

God, knowing what’s in the man’s heart, encourages to write more. So the man does. God is still not satisfied. The man goes back to writing, and writes out the deepest desires of his heart, things that he’d never admit to wanting. God looks at him and says, “I will grant you all these things on one condition: you will never see My face again. Though you call on Me, you will not see Me”.

The ending of that story always jars me into the realization that through Christ, I have access to God Himself, not just the things He provides. It forces me to understand that I all too often make the stuff of life into idols, placing the fulfillment of my perceived needs above trusting God to show me how to create with Him the life that will most glorify Him. It shows me that knowing Him is truly more important than anything I could be given, or anything that I could give (since, after all, I am merely giving an infinitesimal fraction of what He has given me).

I am also reminded through gratitude that it’s not enough just to feel grateful. I have to do something with the bounty that God has given me. Regardless of what I do, I know I will be held accountable for what I do (1 Corinthians 3: 10-15). In this light, then, gratitude poses a challenge to me: to give my best as an act of worship, since God has given His best to me. That’s what I call “Thanks-living”, and it is ultimately more impactful than an emotion that passes.

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