This directive can be a hard one to swallow. I can think of a lot of things right now for which I’m not prone to give thanks. A parishioner falls and breaks a hip. She finds friendship with God an illusive venture. I grapple for proofs of God’s loving kindness. Unfounded accusations leak deep into the bedrock of my soul and threaten to poison me with self-doubt. The political landscape pits evangelical Christians against each other. An apologetic and ethical quagmire ensues. (Christianity has picked a fight with itself and has invited the world to watch.) As I age I’m wondering if dad’s Alzheimer’s and mom’s dementia are targeting me as their next victim, a double dose of apprehension. The churches I know intimately are being challenged with limited resources: people and money are running low. What’s worse, the Spirit has left many of them. Yes, there are a lot of reasons for not giving thanks.
But the realities of life don’t change the mandate. Things were just as challenging when Paul wrote these four words. The government sought to persecute rogue religious groups. God’s people were being challenged with a new way of receiving God’s grace. Jesus was taking his time coming again. Human suffering and uncertainty did not have the luxury of modern social structures and technology.
I believe the only way to even come close to what Paul suggests is to reframe the circumstances that threaten to pull us under. By all means, offer gratitude for what seems good in life. This is a first step, crucial to an ever-growing appreciation for God’s karis (grace). But we dare not stop with easy thanks. No, we must expand our repertoire of gratitude to include those heartbreaking disappointments that, despite being sandpaper to the soul, offer the best opportunity for miracles and blessing.
How can we ever live out this counter-intuitive command when life is a wax museum of offensive people, a Facebook filled with disconnected cries for help and a tabloid of accusations and fake everything? How? By finding a different sense through which to see our circumstances.
Laurie Short helps us imagine a new way of seeing. She writes, “The big view lens will help you view your life from a broader perspective. The present view lens will help you see what you may be missing right now. The rear-view lens will give you insight about the way you are wired. And the higher view lens will reveal more of what God wants you to see.” [Short, Laurie Polich. When Changing Nothing Changes Everything: The Power of Reframing Your Life (Kindle Locations 60-62). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.]
One of my favorite folks to visit is an octogenarian who suffers from the debilitating jerks of Parkinson’s Disease. She is currently suffering physically more than many of us will in a lifetime. But in the mist of her shakes there are two things that keep her going; just being in the presence of God in prayer and, while there, bringing to Him those who have not embraced him by faith. She can’t stand the thought that any would be lost. How is this focus possible? It’s simple. She has reframed her experience of limitation to envision God’s power and strength in the midst of and through it.
I don’t know why God allows the weeds of sorrow to move with the same breezes that sway the wheat of hope, but God invites us to imagine our lives from different perspectives. If we embrace this challenge, we will be able to form a better picture of our lives and God’s work therein. It’s not an easy task, but if we stay faithful, we’ll be able to give thanks in all things.
Rev. Dave DeMott
FBC, Grand Junction