It occurred to me the other day, as I looked forward to the week of Thanksgiving, that I am invited to give thanks in every thing.
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God concerning you. ~ I Thes 5:18
The thought whammed me with its impact, causing me to swerve and come to a screeching mental halt. I especially heard those last three words: in every thing.
GIVING THANKS EVEN IN THIS
We’re parenting full-throttle right now. Our teen son requires all the skills I ever acquired, mastered, discarded or aspired to gain. He’s under the influence of his hormones, society and his not-so-fully developed brain. Some days I wonder how any of us will survive this season, let alone give thanks in it.
I tend to live life in a state I call “intentionally full.” Sometimes that means I’m allowing too many yes answers to creep in, and I’d rather kid myself that I purposed to live that way. On a good week, I maximize what I have to offer and my full schedule is well planned and productive. When a demanding season hits, I can be easily pushed into overload.
During difficult times, my life doesn’t appear to be a hotbed for gratitude. It’s more like the fertile soil for burnout.
Our loving God calls us to give thanks in every thing. I know He’s not asking us to do the impossible. Instead, He is calling us towards what is best for each one of us, what will draw us nearer to Him. It is there, in His presence, giving thanks, that we are both humbled and strengthened.
YOUR LONGINGS WILL BE FILLED
The Greek word for thanks or thanksgiving is eucharisteō. The word is the same word used to describe the practice of taking communion – the eucharist.
When God uses this word, He refers to the kind of thankfulness that is expressed right before a feast. I’m not sure what images come to mind for you here, but I have a few.
I picture my boys and their friends when we have invited a gaggle to supper. As I pull the food out of the oven, a hum of excited anticipation fills the room. You can almost sense the salivation as they prepare to restrain themselves just a bit, when they really want to gobble up every morsel I lay on the table. Boys are big eaters and a group of boys can devour a meal like a pack of wild animals. Afterwards, they say, “Thank you, Mrs. Scott, that was delicious.”
Once, when a friend of my older son’s did a favor for me I texted him, “You know, Jon and I are always here for you if you need anything. Let me know what we can do for you.” Without hesitation he texted back, “some of those tacos you served the other night would be great.” The gratitude for a meal given is one thing – but it never surpasses the unspoken gratitude as they sit almost drooling in anticipation.
THANKFULNESS FUELED BY PROMISE
There is a hunger that accompanies that pre-feast gratitude.
Knowing my need – my longing – I take comfort. It will be well filled.
This is eucharisteō. Eucharisteō looks beyond the emptiness and the burn out. It says with confidence, what I need will be provided and it will come in lavish abundance. When our hearts are certain of this filling, we can live giving thanks in every thing.
THANKFUL LIKE JESUS
The other image that comes to mind when I picture eucharisteo is Jesus at the last supper. Jesus gave thanks. Betrayal loomed before him. He took the bread and then took the cup and He gave thanks. He was facing a night of agony including a mob arresting him, an unfair trial, rejection by his closest earthly friends and ultimately the cross, where God turned His back on him. Looking beyond those agonies, Jesus gave thanks.
WHAT EUCHARISTEO IS NOT
Though we give thanks through our trials, God doesn’t call us to push down reality. He doesn’t ask us to paint on a happy face and carry on as though we aren’t experiencing hardship. God lives in reality. He not only chose to undergo sorrow, He exhorts us to be aware that we will endure trials as well. He says, “In this world you will suffer, but take heart. I have overcome the world.”.
Jesus wept. If He shed tears, we know we will also weep. Our thanksgiving is not a rejection of the feelings which accompany difficulty. We experience sadness, grief, even dark grey days where the oppressive weight of our circumstances seems too heavy to bear.
Through our discouragement and sadness, we can engage in eucharisteō – the thankfulness that precedes a feast.
Knowing the hunger we are experiencing will be filled enables us to give thanks through our pain. We don’t deny the pangs of life’s hurtful circumstances. Thanksgiving isn’t Pollyanna denial of any painful reality.
THE BEAUTY OF THANKSGIVING
We look forward to the holiday of thanksgiving. Usually we gather with friends and family, bringing favorite dishes to share. We anticipate the tradition of stuffing ourselves with goodness. We pause from all the hub-bub of life to set aside a time for gratitude and remembrance.
The practice of giving thanks is always beautiful. We don’t need to wait for a holiday to pause, gather ourselves up and make a tradition of counting our blessings. Something transformative happens when we turn our eyes from whatever burdens us to all our blessings.
God wills us to give thanks in all things – not so we can march along, oblivious to the pain and hardship of life – but so we can gain strength to endure and a hope beyond the hurt. Give thanks, then. Do it this week, when we formally set aside a holiday. Do it in the quiet of your heart at all times; looking up and over whatever is going on around you; looking forward to the feast to come; knowing the longings you have will be filled – even stuffed.