Category Archives: Thanksgiving

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!

Do we pause to give thanks before meals?

Prayer before every meal was something my parents modeled as my brothers and I were growing up. Sometimes it was a silent prayer, with all of us bowing our heads until we heard a noticeable exhale from Daddy which signaled that the prayer time was over. But often Daddy prayed aloud, speaking his gratitude for God’s generosity with many biblical allusions. I also have vivid memories of Grandpa Reuben praying long, heartfelt prayers before meals when our extended family gathered. Soon after I got my first watch I timed his prayer; it was two minutes. That may not sound long, but it was to a growing boy sitting at a table that was groaning under a holiday repast!

I continue the practice of saying grace before meals. girl praying - Alfredo Rodriguez heritagegallerywest.comI see much value in using food in front of me as a reminder to pause and acknowledge God’s generosity in all of life. As the Apostle Paul asked, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7). Rather than taking for granted what is granted, a prayer of thanks before a meal helps me fill my mind with some of the many ways God has shown grace and blessing. At the very least it gets me thinking of the many good things in our world. And that they didn’t begin with me—that someone else deserves some credit.

There is a problem, though, when one prays at every meal. It can turn into mere ritual and lose its meaning.

Here are some ways to vary table grace to help it stay fresh and meaningful:

  • Learn a short memorized prayer that all can say in unison.
  • Alternate between memorized and spontaneous prayers of thanks.
  • Even “spontaneous” prayers are to some extent memorized—we tend to repeat phrases from previous prayers; so try to add at least a fresh phrase or two each time.
  • Some households join hands as they say the grace.
  • Learn a meal blessing song. (I posted a clip of a prayer song as our family celebrated a birthday last month.)
  • Go around the table giving everyone a chance to say something for which they are thankful; have that be the prayer.
  • Sometimes make the prayer simple. I remember my friend Juan’s typical prayer in our Bible institute cafeteria: before he sat down, he’d gesture toward heaven and then toward his tray, saying “Thank you, Lord, for this food!”

We can think of many creative ways to do table grace, I’m sure. But whether we use a new form or an old, any prayer from a thankful heart will be full of meaning.

Yelling at one who gives $100 bills

Suppose I walk up to a neighbor and give them a $100 bill. They of course wonder what it’s for! I just say that I want to give it to them. Further, suppose I do this for thirty days, but then on the thirty-first day I walk by their house and give my $100 bill $100 billto the next neighbor. What if the first neighbor shakes their fist at me?!

We at Trissels have set 2016 as a Year of Gratitude & Generosity, celebrating the many ways God’s grace and generosity comes to us and encouraging a response of gratitude and generosity in each other. But how many days are our hearts not filled with gratitude but with complaint and anger because we are like that neighbor in our story? We take it for granted that a good thing God gave us on previous days will again be given to us today. And when it apparently goes to someone else instead, we are disappointed and shake our fist at God. Shouldn’t we instead continue grateful for what we have been given?

Or imagine our little story ending this way: on the thirty-first day I point out to my neighbor that they are getting quite focused on that $100 bill. “How about if we today focus on our relationship. Come to my house in a bit, and let’s talk together.” What if the neighbor is visibly upset? Even though I was going to explain about the hot financial stock that enables me to have all those $100 bills! How many times have we spurned a good which God is offering because we were expecting some other good?

C.S. Lewis wrote in Letters to Malcolm:

Tell me if you think [this] a vain subtlety. I am beginning to feel that we need a preliminary act of submission not only towards possible future afflictions but also towards possible future blessings. I know it sounds fantastic; but think it over. It seems to me that we often, almost sulkily, reject the good that God offers us because, at the moment, we expected some other good.

The same dynamic affects our relationships with one another. We are often miserable around someone because they aren’t doing something we want them to do. If we gave up that expectation, we would enjoy them—because they do have a lot of good points.

We’re not in charge of our world. We can’t make God or our neighbor give us $100 bills. So why not hold loosely our presumptions as to what they will do for us? Maybe that would let us find new eyes to see and appreciate the good things they are giving. We won’t think so much about the glass being half-empty but take delight in however full it is!

The fun of four kids who are close!

The presence or absence of family tends to mark this time of year with the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas. So I’ll take this time to express joy and gratefulness for four close children.

When Karen & I moved here after 30 years in Corning, NY, we were following unusually clear guidance from God. And following our four children! Two had recently graduated from EMU and were still in the area, and two were still students at EMU. It’s always risky for parents to relocate near young adult children—because the kids might move! However, last week marked our fifth anniversary of being here at Trissels, and, amazingly, all four children are still in the area (three are even in the Trissels directory), and three new in-laws each have roots here.

Our kids being “close” is more than a matter of geography. They are also close in the sense of enjoying each other. And close in age. When our sons were born (seven minutes apart, as identical twins), their sisters were one and three. From December to April that year, we had four children and the oldest was only three years old! The next few years were demanding, especially on Karen—that time is sort of a hazy blur for her! But as the kids grew older, the fact of closeness in age made parenting easier because finding shared activities they could all enjoy was easier.

Their enjoyment of each other was boosted by Karen’s idea of a Family Night each week. Every Thursday night the church knew that its pastor was unavailable for meetings and non-emergency calls, and was instead preoccupied with family fun at a local playground, a hike to a picnic in a treehouse in a nearby 250 acre Nature Center, a meal in the living room while watching a movie, or decorating Christmas cookies, or playing games together.

Our children continued the tradition during the three years all four were in Harrisonburg before Karen & I moved here: they got together most Sunday evenings for Sibling Sundays.

Thanksgiving evening all nine of us enjoyed Wits & Wagers, perhaps the best game ever for families and friends who enjoy numerical trivia and guesstimating odds. Countless moments each year, Karen & I give thanks to God for the joy of four kids who are close.

An indomitable mood in our suffering

Our culture can give us the idea that we are entitled to a life without hardship and struggle. Persons around us assume, for instance, that we humans have the right to end our life if all seems hopelessly overwhelming, that we must free singles to find a sexual partner if celibacy seems a burden too hard to bear.

But often periods of agony and loss and depression are what deepen our life and faith so greatly. Indeed, walking a hard road can be refining and rewarding as well as hard, building deeper character and compassion and reliance on God and the church.

There is an Author Unknown poem that captures the indomitable mood that this faith gives us. Read it aloud and you’ll not only see it in the words, but hear it and feel it in the sound of the words!

When God wants to drill someone, and thrill someone and skill someone,
When God wants to mold someone to play the noblest part,
When He yearns with all His heart to create so great and bold a one
That all the world should be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways:
How He ruthlessly perfects whom He royally elects;
How He hammers them and hurts them,
And with mighty blows converts them into shapes and forms of clay
Which only God can understand,
While our tortured heart is crying and we lift beseeching hands;
Yet God bends but never breaks when our good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And with mighty power infuses one,
With every act induces one to try His splendor out,
God knows what He’s about.

Especially as Thanksgiving season approaches next week, let’s be giving thanks to God “in all circumstances” (1 Thes. 5:18) and “for everything” (Eph. 5:20). As we live our lives in faith and obedience, even loss and pain will eventually make us better, not bitter!

Don’t tune out the good things

Interested in a simple exercise that can boost how you relate with God and with persons around you?!

At any moment in our lives, there are many more things going on around us than we can consciously focus on. So we must “tune out” wide swathes of life so our mental circuits don’t overload.

Unfortunately, one class of things that we “tune out” are the recurring good events or elements in our life; we tend to go through our days ignoring that whole group because we are used to them. Even more unfortunate, these are the most valuable parts of our lives – good things so consistent that we depend on them and expect them to be there for us. Here we are, taking some of the most important blessings in life for granted! Instead, what we notice most are the events that disrupt their occurrence!

The simple exercise that can reverse this whole unfortunate pattern is the discipline of gratefulness. This is a choice to notice and remark on some of the multitude of good things that happen so consistently that they can pass unnoticed, a choice to fight our natural tendency to “tune out” such things. Instead we deliberately “tune in” to them (1 Thes. 5:18).

Think of a difficult relationship, perhaps a co-worker or family member. This person is a mixture of both good and bad. If we continue the natural pattern (automatically noticing the bad, not the good), our emotions about the person are more negative than necessary. Without the discipline of choosing to look for and affirm the positive, we give ourselves a diminished person to relate to: we go into interactions with them with our mind full of how they disappoint us but not full of what they do right.

Similarly, God seems a mixture: regularly giving good gifts that we count on (and take for granted) and then at times taking those good things away (which we notice). We have a choice: do we dwell on the pain and loss? Or do we choose to focus on the many instances of God’s goodness present even in the midst of suffering? Giving thanks does not eliminate our questions about God. But it does fill our minds with the overwhelming indications of God’s love, and move us toward joy and trust!

Does good fortune spoil us?

      The story is told of two old friends who bumped into one another on the street one day. One of the men looked forlorn, almost on the verge of tears.
      His friend asked, “What has the world done to you, my old friend?”
      The sad fellow said, “Let me tell you. Three weeks ago, an uncle died and left me forty thousand dollars.”
      “That’s a lot of money.”
      “But, two weeks ago, a cousin I never even knew died, and left me eighty-five thousand free and clear.”
      “Sounds like you’ve been blessed?”
      “You don’t understand!” he interrupted. “Last week my great-aunt passed away. I inherited almost a quarter of a million.”
      Now the friend was really confused. “Then, why do you look so glum?”
      The other man cried, “This week–nothing!”

A ridiculous story, to be sure! Yet how often do we show a milder case of that same sickness–where good fortune leaves us spoiled? It would seem that the more we have, the more grateful we should be. But, generally speaking, isn’t it often the opposite? The more we have, the less thankful we tend to be.

We get a larger TV, and now we’re no longer appreciative of the smaller one in another room. (That was a safe illustration, since Karen & I only have one TV!) Our parents or spouse consistently do some nice act of kindness for us, and instead of being thankful each time they do it, we grumble if they don’t do it. (That one does hit home.) We’ve driven a Prius, so now we aren’t as grateful for an ancient Saturn. (Ouch.) We’ve cheered for a championship team, so now it’s difficult to be content when our team has a good season but doesn’t take home the title.

Having a lot does not automatically produce a grateful spirit. As Bob Russell says in Jesus, Lord of Your Personality, “It is a rare person who, when his cup frequently runs over, can give thanks to God instead of complaining about the limited size of his mug!”

So how do we learn to be thankful? We choose to do so again and again until it becomes second nature.