Paul writes in his first letter to the Thesalonians: “Give thanks in all circumstances.”
Those words are simple, direct, and utterly profound.
I have been challenged throughout my life with circumstances that made it difficult for a spirit of gratitude to emerge with any kind of authenticity. Times of deep pain and grief; times when hurt and betrayal engendered anger and disappointment; times of loneliness and despair: all such moments made the giving of thanks either utterly impossible or entirely inauthentic.
And yet on the other side of all of those times, deep reflection led me to a place where I could see the hand of God working through it all. An inability or an unwillingness in such times to see or feel or perceive God’s presence is not a statement about when or whether God bothers to show up. It is instead a statement about how life’s trials and tribulations can distract us from the hand that is always there, sheltering and comforting and abiding.
As we come to celebrate another Thanksgiving Holiday, I find myself taking stock of all the gifts and joys that have come to me for which I am grateful. That work is easily done, for I am one blessed with an abundance of blessings: a family I love dearly and that loves me back; a ministry, vocation, and calling that makes good use of the gifts and talents God has blessed me with; an extended family that knew me when and loves me still; an ability to witness each day the difference that love makes in the world. For all these things I give thanks to God daily.
I want to extend my thanksgiving into the hard places:
- The place where I grieve my father’s death.
- The place where I process my anger at injustices that won’t give way to peace.
- The place where I replay scenes in hospital rooms where futures were renogiated.
- The place where emptiness overcame hope.
These are real places I have come through; places where the giving of thanks was somewhat absent.
What did Paul mean when he wrote to give thanks in all circumstances?
I think in the end he meant that God is not God only when all is well. I think he meant God’s love is not there only when the smiles abide. I think he meant that God is often only remembered when we think we have received something beautiful; and then forgotten when challenges confront us.
His words are a gentle reminder to us that God persists. Tic Nhat Han once wrote: sometimes, my joy is the source of my smile. At others, my smile is the source of my joy.
I love those words, as much as I love Paul’s: give thanks in all circumstances. Smile your way to happiness. Life is hard, and challenges will conspire to steal from us the source of our joy.
As you approach this day of Thanksgiving, be sure and approach your Sacred with words that express your gratitude for all the joys and blessings you share. But be open as well to naming to your sacred the pain and the anguish that you know – and if nothing else thanking your sacred for the strength to endure even this. Life is an unfolding mystery of joy and sorrow, of exuberance and emptiness, of love and loss, of happiness and grief. God abides through it all. May you find your pathway to gratitude in all circumstances on this, your journey Into the Mystic.