Category Archives: family

Impact of everyday thankfulness to God

“Give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thes. 5:18)

Ellen Vaughn recounts a story that shows what obeying this verse can look like, along with its astonishing impact. She calls it “the meditative habit of constantly whispering thanks to [God]—no matter the situation” in her book Radical Gratitude: Discovering Joy through Everyday Thankfulness.

Vaughn had a friend who

was going through the wringer with her teenage daughter. Their once-close relationship had devolved into a briar patch of prickly feelings, stinging barbs, and angry outbursts. My friend felt she could not utter a sentence without stepping into a minefield. Her patience was waning, her frustration growing. The conflicts with her daughter were affecting other relationships, like with her husband.

The friend wanted to hold onto God’s presence in these challenges. mother-daughter communication She wanted her mind and soul to not just be filled with what her daughter was doing but also to be aware of what God was doing in the situation. She knew that God is sovereign and good, that she can trust God. So every time she saw or thought of her daughter or got into a difficult conversation, she chose to express the truth that she can trust God to work for good “in all circumstances” by speaking words of thankfulness to this God (even though she didn’t feel thankful):

Thank you that you are with me! Thank you for giving me this girl! Thank you that she is even able to speak! Thank you that her mind works so quickly! Thank you that the story is not yet over! Thank you for your patience with me!

Several things happened within the friend.

First, this exercise stimulated a creative challenge within her as she sought to discern all the things she could thank God for. Second, it distanced her from the emotion of the moment, so she didn’t respond to her daughter out of frustration or anger. She found she was thinking more about God than her daughter. Third, that distance allowed her to actually see humor in various situations. Humor is good. And fourth, the more she thanked God for her daughter, the more she was able to perceive her as his daughter. She found that developing the habit of giving thanks gave her more resilience and elasticity, rather than always being ready to snap. And oddly enough, she couldn’t wait for her daughter to get home from school every day, so she could lavish love on her.

A sense of gratitude to God will always begin to birth within us a generosity of spirit. My prayer is that a theme of Gratitude and Generosity will pervade all our days!

Marriage we’re willing to die for

There’s a marriage stat I’ve told many people.

In 2002 a research team based at the University of Chicago presented an analysis of data on 5,232 married adults from the National Survey of Families and Households. That sample included 645 who said they were unhappy in their marriage. These persons were interviewed again five years later. Those who divorced were on average still unhappy or even less happy. But two-thirds of those who stayed in their marriages reported that their marriages were happy five years later. As the USA Today headline put it: “Unhappily wed? Put off getting that divorce.” The odds are that divorce will not bring happiness, but that toughing it out in an unhappy marriage until it turns around just might deliver.

There are always seasons in married life when our spouse is not serving us, being attentive to us. Perhaps they’re sick, discouraged, or absorbed in their own problems. Can we choose to love our spouse during times when we are getting very little, if any, love back?

Tim Keller in The Meaning of Marriage points out that we parents do this with our children. We give and give to a child, forgoing much of our freedom and life for the child. Sometimes we get hugs or thanks in return; but by and large we give and the child gives very little in return. Even when we don’t feel any love for the child, we choose to give to them—we come home, we sacrifice for the child.

In contrast, what happens when our spouse is not loving us? We tend to think, “You’re not being the spouse you used to be, so I won’t be the spouse I used to be.” We pull back, risking a loveless, downward spiral. At the end of 18 years, even if our child is a mess, we still love the kid. But with our spouse, after years of choosing to not love when we don’t feel them loving us, there’s no love left. The child goes off to college and the marriage falls apart. And it’s our fault. What we practiced with our child, we didn’t practice with our spouse: during the times of not receiving love, we didn’t choose to give love anyway.

So let’s cherish each other—even when the other doesn’t signal love to us. And more than just on Valentine’s Day. Every day let’s do things like prioritize the first four minutes together after work: listen to the other, observe them, ask specific questions about their day, show affection. The potential return is huge every time we invest time and energy into an act of love toward our spouse. Be willing to die for our marriage—and we just might get a marriage to die for!

How this preacher got a bit more mellow

One of the handy things about being a preacher for 36 years is that often my current sermon text is one I’ve preached on before. Sometimes I can harvest ideas from the old sermon. Sometimes I’m appalled at how I said things, and marvel at the grace the congregation showed a young preacher! The most fun is when I find personal anecdotes that flood me with memories.

Last Sunday I preached on Hebrews 10:23-39. Back in the mid 1980’s, when April was two years old and Rachel a few months old, I had preached on verses 36-37 about persevering in doing God’s will because in just a little while Jesus is coming and will not delay. That sermon manuscript had an anecdote that is especially vivid now that our family has two grandchildren under four months! It’s something that had happened the day before.

On Friday afternoon April developed a fever. She cried off and on all night and all yesterday. (I’ll spare you the details. Imagine the worst possible scenario, and you got it!) In the middle of all that, at one point, I was holding Rachel. I went outside with her, kicking the screen door open. I had to get away from it all. I was saying, “Lord, I’m supposed to be calm, filled with love?!”

One of the things God said to me (since that week I had been mulling over this Scripture which talked about Christ coming again ‘in just a very little while’) was, “If you knew I was coming in an hour, how that would that affect your attitude? How important would your comfort be? Or would you focus on doing as much as you could to please me?”

This preacher is of course older, wiser, more mellow, more mature now. A bit! Some of what helps keep such meltdowns away nowadays is that delightful status called grandparenthood where Karen & I get to send our grandsons home to their parents at night! But some of it, hopefully, is an ability to step outside of my present emotions and to look to my values, to the person I want to be: not one who is selfish and angry and destructive but one who loves and nurtures those around me because Jesus is Lord and I am choosing to live like Jesus and please him. One day I will stand before Christ the King and give account of my life. I want to be aware of that eternal dimension and make daily choices in light of it. Bit by bit I’m letting that future transform my present.