Before Thanksgiving, my aunt’s rotary club hosted a speaker from the University of Arizona Center on Conflict Resolution who presented tips on how to navigate a Thanksgiving conversation that avoids conflict. What a low bar we’ve set for ourselves: our definition of success is simply escaping a holiday gathering without offending someone. Thanksgiving ought to come not from that superficial posture, but from a heart that is engaged and transparent.
I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Not a “glad-I-survived-that” kind of Thanksgiving, but one that truly allowed you to stop and cultivate gratitude in your heart.
Before we move on to Christmas shopping and parties, I want us to stop and pause just a bit longer and consider how we can nurture a heart of thankfulness.
Think of how many technological improvements have occurred in your lifetime. Whether you’re a Boomer, a Gen Xer, or even a Millennial, you’ve seen incredible steps forward in your lifetime.
When I was a kid it was a big deal when the cordless phone came out. By cordless, I don’t mean a cell phone, I mean a phone that didn’t have a physical cord attaching it to the receiver. Before the cordless we had the phone in our dining room with like 20 feet of cord that wrapped itself up like a snake waiting to strike. It was a big deal that you could take the phone off the receiver and cook dinner while talking on the phone. The next major revolution was call waiting. Our family couldn’t believe why anyone would need call waiting. Why wouldn’t you just call back when you got a busy signal?
Everyone who is old enough to remember his first experience logging onto the internet through a landline can still hear that distinctive sound of those first generation modems trying desperately to connect.
And yet last month there I was, sitting at a stadium, with tens of thousands of other fans, irritated I couldn’t get a decent wireless signal from my seat.
This is no new problem. Our spiritual fathers, the Jews, might not have invented grumbling, but they certainly perfected it. God dramatically rescues the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt by assaulting the most powerful empire on earth with ten unimaginable plagues. By the power of God, Pharaoh lets them go, but the Pharaoh’s heart soon changes and he chases them and traps them at the Red Sea. How do the Israelites respond? They complain, “It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”[i]
God rescues his grumbling people by parting the Red Sea for them to cross through and then drowns the pursuing Egyptian army in the sea. And yet, no sooner than God has brought them to freedom than they are complaining first for water,[ii] and then for food.[iii] This grumbling would mark their next forty years as God continued to lead and provide and they continued to kvetch about their lot.[iv]
I was talking with a couple from New Life recently who were sharing their experience in the Armed Forces. What the husband said so captured the spirit of so much of our grumbling: “In the military, the base you’re at is the worst, the base you were just at is the best, and the base you’re headed to is the second best.” How many of us live lives stuck in this state of perpetually grumbling about the present, whatever it is, and then put a halo over the past or the future?
We are to be people of gratitude and thanksgiving. Our prayers are to be prayers of praise and thanksgiving.[v] Thanksgiving brings renewal to our soul and refreshment in our relationship with God.
Author JI Packer says, “The life of true holiness is rooted in the soil of awed adoration. It does not grow elsewhere.”[vi]
How do we continue to live out thanksgiving – not just on a day, but as the shape of our lives? GK Chesterton says that “our perennial spiritual and psychological task is to look at things familiar until they become unfamiliar again.”[vii]
Zoom in and find the small, the unaccounted for, and be grateful for those things. Some of the most beautiful photographs are photographs of small things that we pass over again and again. The zoomed in pad of a purple prickly pear. The surprising beauty of a lizard. The incredible beauty of the wrinkles of a familiar face. See the beauty in the small. In the monotonous around you.
Find the familiar unfamiliar. Be in awe of the incredible gift of the car that brought you here this morning, of the plumbing in your home where we miraculously don’t have to live with our sewage. See with new eyes the clouds that God raises up and uses to carries millions of pounds of water in from the Pacific, across hundreds of miles, and then drops them in this desert to nourish his plants.
I’ve met so many who have lived in Tucson for much of their lives and yet find no beauty in this incredible Sonoran desert we live in. How heart breaking! Be in awe of the bright red fruit of the saguaro. Stop and look with mouth wide open at the jaw-dropping beauty of the four mountain ranges that encircle our city. Examine the absurd splendor of the waxy green bark of the Palo Verde. And do it again and again every day, finding the familiar unfamiliar.[viii]
Cultivate an every-day thanksgiving, friends.
Photo credit: Neonbrand/Unsplash
[i] Exodus 14:11-14
[ii] Exodus 15:22-24
[iii] Exodus 16:2
[iv] Don’t be deceived. God takes ingratitude seriously. He doesn’t just pat us on our heads and say, “Ah, that’s kids being kids.” No, God’s anger is sparked by our ingratitude. When God is trying to take his people into the Promised Land at the end of their journey through the wilderness and because they fear those God is calling them to fight, they grumble again that Egypt would have been better, and God’s anger fumes. “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them” (Numbers 14:11 (see 14:1-12 for full story)). See also 1 Corinthians 10:9-10, where Paul talks about the seriousness of our grumbling. For some, grumbling meant that they were “destroyed by the Destroyer.”
[v] Some of us might have learned to pray a form of prayer called ACTS. It’s a very simple and helpful tool and I would encourage you to use it. A stands for adoration. This is praising God for who he is. C is confession: repenting for your sin. T stands for thanksgiving and S stands for supplication – asking God for what you need.
[vi] Quoted in Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, 111.
[vii] Quoted in Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, 131.
[viii] In his incredible book, Orthodoxy, Chesterton talks about a child as a model for how we are called to live a life of attentive joy and gratitude: “Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we” (Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 143).