When Ginger, my late wife, was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2006, I began a series of email updates which were sent to a number of friends to keep them informed on Ginger's battle with cancer. After her passing in the Spring of 2010, I have continued to send out these updates, the focus shifting to a sort of journal of my own experience of loss and grief.
Today's post is an excerpt from one such email sent this week. I hope you find it useful as you think about thankfulness today!
The Thanksgiving holiday is one of the better inventions of our American culture. Thanksgiving was Ginger’s favorite holiday. She loved to gather her family around one essential principle ... the power inherent in a thankful heart. Of course, gratitude is not the unique commodity of Thanksgiving Day, nor should it be. But this holiday does provide us with an opportunity to pause and consider its importance, and the dynamic capacities released through thankfulness.
Consider with me the transforming dynamic of thanksgiving. In the first century, opinions varied among believers over which foods were morally safe to eat, and which we should avoid. Paul often addressed this issue. Rather than being a matter of religious legislation, Paul set the matter into the realm of personal conscience. In one place (1 Timothy 4:3-4), he teaches that the key to eating otherwise verboten foods is thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, it seems, actually has the power to transform food, and make it acceptable to the eater! Questionable foods become beneficial foods by the application of thanksgiving! From this teaching comes the Christian habit of saying grace at our dinner tables.
But this principle also serves as an analogy for life: “nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving”. Nothing! Thanksgiving changes things! The Bible suggests that we can transform anxiety into peace with the application of thankfulness (Philippians 4:6-7). The way out of confusing and troubling circumstances is opened by thankfulness (Psalm 50:23). Thanksgiving can alter life’s bitter experiences, reshaping them into growth stimulants! Author Shauna Neiquist puts it this way: "When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow."
My life has no shortage of opportunities to test this theory! I’m still trying to wrap my mind around what it means to be thankful for cancer. I won’t pretend that I’ve arrived at a place of offering thanks for Ginger’s passing. But I am reminded of the frequent references in the Bible to the discipline of thankfulness. It is sometimes placed into the category of sacrifice. Personal thanksgiving must at times be pushed through the steady resistance of our own sorrow, even anger. In such circumstances, thanksgiving is offered without full understanding; it is offered in faith, and in hope.
Recently, I was handed another occasion to test the operations of thankfulness! My account on a social internet site was hacked. I was able to shut down the account before serious damage was done. But nevertheless, I got a taste of I.D. theft. It is not pleasant. Aside from feeling personally violated, and having my reputation drug through the gutter, I was left feeling vulnerable on many fronts. I have since secured my computer, and my other online dealings against future attack, and this is a good thing. But I have also been forcibly, and permanently blocked from many friendships. My initial reaction was one of unbridled anger! I was livid! But as I have considered the net gains and losses from this experience, anger has given way to a strange and unexpected gratitude. Accepting our circumstances, even finding those elements for which we can offer thanks, is so much better than stubbornly resisting them. This experience has given me opportunity to reevaluate some of my personal goals and priorities, a process which has strangely given me a new sense of contentment; and a growing thankfulness for the services of an internet intruder.
As you gather with friends and family today, my wish is that your holiday will be filled with happy thoughts, great food, and closeness with your loved ones. But take a moment or two and review those circumstances in your life which naturally create sorrow, anger, or anxiety. Find a place for them in the kettle of gratitude. And watch as thankfulness works its transformative magic!