Thursday, November 27, 2014

Taking the Little Things for Granted: a reflection on Giving Thanks

There’s so much in life we take for granted as we go about our daily lives.  Until something stops us in our tracks and makes us take notice.

November 4th was an ordinary day that stopped me in my tracks.  My husband collapsed and had to be life-flighted to Sioux Falls.  The fear, uncertainty and confusion of those first few days really put in focus what’s important.  Those days showed me just how often I take the many blessings I have in my life for granted. 
A few days before, I would almost carelessly kiss my husband goodbye before I went out to do some visits or to go to a meeting.  Suddenly the memory of that morning’s kiss became precious.  The simple act of making lunch for him that afternoon was transformed from chore to gift.
 I had a lot of time to think sitting at his bedside about all the things I had to be thankful for:  our life together, our children;  the myriad little things that make life full of joy – a crispy starry winter night, a sunset, our pets;   the congregations who have called me to be their pastor and the wonderful communities which welcomed us and now showed so much love and support in our time of crisis;   the EMT’s and paramedics, doctors and nurses and all the hospital personnel who gave my husband such good care.

Fear and confusion gave way to giving thanks for the smallest improvement - that he started responding to pain, that he opened his eyes, that he was able to talk, that he began to regain strength. 

I had a lot of time on my hands, sitting at his bedside.  I passed the night watches reading.  I had just starting reading “The Year of Living Biblically; one man’s humble quest to follow the Bible as literally as possible.”  One of the things that really stood out to me was his encounters with giving thanks.    He had been raised in a non-practicing Jewish family and had never really prayed before.  So he found daily prayer difficult and awkward.  There were two kinds of prayer that worked really well for him – praying for other people, and praying for his blessings. 
As he began to daily give thanks, he noticed that he became “obsessed with gratefulness.”  He began giving thanks for the smallest, most ordinary, things.  That his wife left the door unlocked and he didn’t need to dig for his keys.  That his young son was sitting on the floor, eating pineapple.  He says, “I’m actually muttering to myself, ‘Thank you….thank you…thank you….’  It’s an odd way to live. But also kind of great and powerful.  I’ve never been so aware of thousands of little good things, the thousands of things that go right each day.”
    That resonated with me, sitting at my husband’s bedside, giving thanks for each breath he took.  These last few weeks for me have been emotionally draining, even terrifying at times.  But they have also been curiously filled with thanks.

Was it that thanks that got me though? 

In the Bible, there are Psalms of lament.  These are songs of deep anguish, heartbroken cries to God.  Songs that contain the most desolate of human emotions. But something curious happens at the end of those laments.  These psalms end in praise and thanksgiving – an outpouring of trust in God, the giver of blessings.  It’s like the psalmist is saying, “God, I have seen your many gifts to me, your outpouring of grace and mercy in the past.  And I also know that someday I will be able to thank you again, no matter what I am going through now.  So I’m going to start thanking you right now.”  For the psalmist, giving thanks is an act of faith.

Last week, I was reminded of the mission trip to Nicaragua I went on last summer.   The people I met had very little in the way of material things.  But they had absolute confidence in God’s loving care and daily blessing in their lives.  Is that what it looks like to live as the Apostle Paul teaches us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18  “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

We’re at the time of the year that we focus on giving thanks.  After all, today is Thanksgiving.  But what if we practiced Thanksgiving every day?   What if we lived in a way where we are continually aware of all our blessings, big and small, going around muttering, “Thank you…thank you…thank you”?

What if we took time every day to notice all those blessings we normally take for granted?

I pray for God’s blessings to you and your family on this day of Thanksgiving.

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