This piece originally appeared in our parish newsletter. To read the rest of the newsletter and learn about what's going on at St. John's, Decatur, please click here.
During the month of November, I have seen several people posting a daily thanksgiving on Facebook. What a wonderful practice! Each day for thirty days, these individuals are thinking about their lives, naming one thing for which they are grateful, and then sharing their gratitude with the world. Consider that practice for a moment. What are some of the things you would share? Could you think of thirty? Could you figure out which thirty among hundreds you would post?
I have never undertaken that particular exercise, and I wonder what sort of effect it has on those who do. Does the daily practice of giving thanks deepen their overall appreciation for the blessings they have received? Does the spirit of gratitude persist beyond the thirty days? Does the habit of sharing a positive perspective change the way they view and use social media? Is their thanksgiving contagious? Does it invite other Facebook friends to consider the blessings in their own lives?
Although it does not appear in social media, part of my daily practice is to name before God those things that are troubling me and those things for which I am thankful. That is how I structure my daily prayers—intercessions and thanksgivings. And something arises out of the daily habit. I discover a shape or direction of how God is present with me each day. For me, my life finds balance as I consider both challenges and blessings together. If I focus too much on the troubles around me and forget the importance of intentional thanksgiving, God’s presence in my life is harder to see. When I am steeped in that daily practice, however, God’s work seems clear and obvious even when times are tough.
The bible is replete with examples of gratitude in the face of adversity. James wrote, “Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds” (1:2). Even from prison, Paul wrote, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content…In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13). Again and again, the Psalmist reminded God’s people to choose hope in the midst of struggle: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (46:1) and “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (23:4). Those sacred words are written so that you and I might take comfort in moments of difficulty, but, in my life, the invitation to intentional thanksgiving has come more substantially from another source: the grateful people around me.
Maybe you know those people, too—the sorts of people who always seem to see the blessings in their lives even when they are surrounded by hardship. Although they always lead with a cheerful smile, just below the surface is considerable pain. Story after story of disappointment, difficulty, and disaster have filled their lives, yet they never complain. Instead, they remind me what it means to be truly thankful. They know what it means to let gratitude define their lives, and they invite me to do the same.
Gratitude, it seems, increases resilience. “How do you do it?” we might ask those whose lives have been filled with tragedy. “How do you even get out of bed in the morning?” And their answer is as astounding as it is simple: “Because each day is another blessing.” Those who refuse to let the challenges of life beat them down are the ones who never forget to count their blessings. That is not a coincidence.
This Thanksgiving, consider more than those things for which you are grateful. That question is too easy. We are all thankful for family and friends and food. Instead, ask yourself how you are grateful. Do you give thanks every day? Have you adopted a pattern of gratitude as a way of life? Are you building up your resilience for whatever hardship might lie ahead by counting the blessings that have already come your way? Gratitude is not a list; it is a way of life. May thanksgiving become a part of who we are.