No pretty photos today. No eye candy. Just some black and white reality, I do believe.
There’s a Facebook trend I’ve seen lately. People are taking the challenge to spend time naming three things they are thankful for each day for five days. When they post their thanks, they nominate three other people, challenging them to follow suit. Giving thanks and spurring one another on to give thanks—a good thing.
But I’ve noticed that all but one of the people who are jumping on this trendy train are giving thanks for the pleasant, the nice, the wonderful, the beautiful, the happy. Only one person has given thanks for the painful, the horrible, the downright awful. And the one person who gave thanks for the pain gave thanks “because these things have made me who I am today.”
Fair enough. Sounds good.
But I wonder . . .
Why are we giving thanks for anything?
Is it to foster some sort of positive thinking that will spread, making you and me a bit happier? Are we trying desperately to turn our glance away from the hard and horrible in some sort of psychological denial, some ostrich head-in-the-sand silliness or one-up social positioning? Is happiness what we’re really after? Or peace of mind? Or a stronger self? Or a more acceptable persona?
Pardon me for being the Socratic gadfly with biting questions that might cause deeper thinking, but I’m not jumping on this particular thankfulness train—at least not in the way I’ve seen others jump on and ride lately. Because I think there’s a subtle danger here . . .
First, we can become so consumed with giving thanks for things or for people that we forget to give thanks for Him—period—not for the good He gives or the pain He allows, but for Him—for who He is.
Second, we can become so conditioned to give thanks for the “good” things that we lose sight that all is “good”—even what we define as “bad”—when in the hands of the Almighty because it is He who can and does use all to draw us closer to the best gift of all—Himself—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Third, we can become so conditioned to give thanks for the “good” things that we don’t want to hear about the “bad” things in others’ lives. We turn away from hearing and seeing pain in others and, in so doing, we turn away from Christ who calls us to offer mercy and comfort to the suffering. Giving thanks only for what we define as good sends a subtle but wrong message that we only want to focus on the positive. Without saying so, we offer others the old adage, “If you don’t have something nice to say, say nothing at all.” There is nothing more isolating to the suffering than such a subtle but strong message. Nothing.
The greatest purpose of giving thanks in all things to draw us into continuously greater intimacy with God. He promises to work all things—the happy and the sad—together for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)
According to His purpose?
What’s His purpose?
Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. Matthew 22:37-40
And how do we love our neighbor as ourselves?
And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8
Unbroken, intimate relationship with Him where we act justly (according to His standards) and love mercy (according to His example) and walk humbly (recognizing that we are broken people living in a broken world, redeemed by Jesus Christ, and in the process of being perfectly restored by Him working through us, right here and right now. His purpose and everything given to us, everything that happens to us is meant to position us squarely in front of our Maker and Savior, giving thanks and glory for who He is, first, and what He does, second.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name . . .
The first line of instruction from Jesus when asked how we ought to pray because we are to praise and thank Him first for who He is. (Matthew 6:9)
Of course, there is nothing wrong with giving thanks for the innumerable gifts God gives us. And all is gift, even the horrible. Yes, even the horrible . . .
Because our greatest gift is God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth and all within.
It is He who loves us with an everlasting love nothing can threaten.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38
Of what is Paul who wrote this convinced?
I think it’s what tops my list of things I’m thankful for—attributes that enable us all to know, for sure, that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord . . .
Our triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is . . .
Omnipotent. Nothing is more powerful than God. His purposes will be accomplished in His time, His way.
Omniscient. God knows everything—past, present, future. We do not. We need not.
Omnipresent. We are never, ever alone.
All-loving. God is love so everything He thinks, does, and feels is loving. We are not in the position to judge God and His ways. Our Creator is in the position to judge us. And so we bow before Him and thank Him foremost and frequently for His mercy and grace lavished lovingly on us in Jesus who bore all judgment in Himself for our imperfection and set us free from guilt and shame, once and for all.
And one last thing . . .
God is not dualistic in His thinking as we are prone to be. He doesn’t think in terms of “good” and “bad” like we do. He uses “bad” and turns it into ultimate “good” for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
Do we love Him?
If we say we do, we will submit to Him and His ways even when we don’t understand—even when we don’t like it one little bit. In fact, we just might find our path excruciatingly painful at times. Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary. But can we still cry out in our humanity, like Jesus did, and yet stand strong in our spirituality, like Jesus did?
Can we love Him more?
I guess the answer is found in the answer to another question . . .
Will we give thanks in all things and not reject helping others in their pain? Will we stop trying to sugar-coat with spiritual platitudes and stop trying to project only half our humanity when we show ourselves to this broken down world? If we can become courageous enough to show others our whole selves—even our vulnerable underbelly—knowing God has firm hold of us always, might we just start acting a bit more justly, loving and offering a bit more mercy, and walking a bit more humbly? And wouldn’t just a bit more justice and mercy and humility shown attract just a few more others to Jesus who heals us all, sooner or later?
I do believe.