“Give thanks in all circumstances.”
~ First Thessalonians 5.18, NRSV
We have no problem counting the days of children but the days of adults prove difficult, embarrassing even. Our milestones are often covered up: the first gray hair, the first pain that won’t go away, the first time we could no longer do this or that like we used to. And we don’t like to tell our age because we don’t want to get older, which suggests that we don’t want any more days. We say with delight, “He is one and a half.” She says proudly and he defiantly, “I am twelve and three quarters, almost a teenager.” It seems that getting older is fun and exciting but being old is unattractive and to be avoided.
Some persons say, “They have their whole life ahead of them.” But, as of today, I have used 12,377 days.[i] The psalmist tells me, “The days of our life are seventy or perhaps eighty if we are strong”[ii]; that’s between 25,550 and 29,200. So, I have a little more than half ahead of me. Half of my days spent, what will I do with what is left?
How have you numbered or taken notice of them? What have you done with your days? The psalmist writes, “So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.”[iii] For this worshipper, this kind of arithmetic brought wisdom. What will it bring us?
Some days we don’t want to count or hope that they don’t count against us because of the circumstances we find ourselves in. Many of us live wondering if we matter and have significance, if our days spent on earth count for something and if we will be counted as a blessing.
And if counting our days is difficult, then counting our blessings is nearly impossible. Who has time for that and to what end? I mean, how many times can you say, “Thank you”?
Ann Voskamp in her book One Thousand Gifts attempts to count her blessings all the way up to one thousand and captures the struggle to give thanks in all circumstances. But, this is what Paul tells the church at Thessalonica.
It is a part of a list and so easily we can give thanks on Sunday and check it off of ours for the week. It is at the end of the letter and often, thanksgiving is the last thing that we do when facing difficult situations. So often, it is at the end of our lives, our letters to the world, that we give thanks.
Today, it’s easy to give thanks. Everybody’s doing it and we have the day off. It’s a holiday and it comes with family around the table, turkey, pumpkin or sweet potato pie. Who doesn’t want to give thanks for that? As the fourth of July calls for fireworks and Christmas calls for presents, Thanksgiving requires that we be grateful. We can give thanks in this circumstance.
Despite this holiday that commands appreciation, I believe that we get use to blessings just as we do our days. We become accustomed to them. We think that because we can put days on a calendar that they belong to us, that because we set our alarm clocks that we order time. Breath and blessing are made normative and we come to expect the next day, the next blessing— without much thanksgiving.
We believe that we can choose when to be thankful; consequently, there are some experiences, some people for which we do not thank God. But, what about the blessings that we could count? What about those that we’ve wasted? What will we do with the blessings that we have left, wrapped in persons and places that we have decided not to give thanks for?
Paul says, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” However, giving thanks is not the problem; it’s when. All. Everywhere with everyone no matter what. It’s a call for unconditional thanksgiving—without cinnamon and pumpkin spice, festive music or holiday decorations. And not because it’s mannerable, polite or the right thing to do. But because it is the appropriate response.
Still, all occasions are not full of thanks but emptied by loss and grief, pushed aside for anger and revenge, forgotten due to pride and egotism, traded for greed and stolen glory.
But thanksgiving is not a day. Thanksgiving is an action. It is not determined by the quality of the day but the faithfulness of the God we serve. We are a thanksgiving people.
C. S. Lewis wrote in a letter in 1948, “We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is “good,” because it is good, if “bad” because it works in us patience, humility and the contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.”[iv] Then, all things, all people, all circumstances count as blessings, which makes the math problem easy— as we are only adding.
Ann Voskamp says that the sin in the Garden of Eden was one of ingratitude. They simply were not content. They were not thankful for what God had given them. Thanksgiving then is the correction, the cure for our broken communion with God.
Count your blessings, number them all, not based on how they make you feel but because of what they work in you: God’s goodness.
Count your blessings, name them all, not their size or seeming importance, but the grace by which they are given.
Count your blessings, notice them all, no matter how they look or sound, when they arrive or where they come from.
Count your blessings and scoot closer to God.
Count your blessings and follow in the footsteps of God.
Count your blessings and find yourself right in the presence of God: “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” communion, paradise, “our eternal country.” Amen.
[i] That’s 297,048 hours.
[ii] Psalm 90.10, NRSV
[iii] Psalm 90.12, NRSV
[iv] C.S. Lewis, Letter to Don Giovanni Calabria, August 10, 1948