The Key of Gratitude, part 1
As we move into thanksgiving week, we may find ourselves not feeling very thankful. It has been quite a year. From the pandemic to racial injustice to job losses to a contentious election, we are likely feeling and experiencing a lot of things and thankfulness is possibly not one of them. We’re tired of hearing the word “unprecedented.” We’re exhausted from relational tension. We’re ready to move on.
“Let’s hurry and get to 2021.” “Put out the Christmas decorations and maybe 2020 will just give up and leave us alone!” The impulse to move on is strong even when we know the truth is that all of our challenges won’t go away with decorations or the turn of the calendar to another year. Two things I know are true:
- The present moment is where we experience love, joy, peace, and patience. We can erroneously believe that love will happen in the future or peace will be present when things change. Or, we desire to return to a time in the past where things weren’t so tough and joy seemed to be abundant. The truth is that all of these things (love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness) are the result of paying attention to God now. Jesus encouraged us to abide. To abide is to remain, to stay put. To abide means that we stay where we are … with God. “I am the vine and you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for part from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, ESV))
- We can’t dismiss our hurts and frustrations as if they are no big deal. We have to walk through them. In Jeremiah 6:14, we read, “they dress the wounds of my people as though it were not serious, ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” (NIV) Richard Rohr has commented, “If you do not transform your pain, you will transmit it.” This is why we may find ourselves overreacting to a situation or looking for something to explain away the pain. How is pain transformed? Foundationally, transformation happens as we refuse to deny or ignore but instead be honest about where we are.
Thanksgiving and gratitude can act as keys that unlock the door of staying in the moment and walking through our wounds and hurts. Psalm 100 encourages us to “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise … come into His presence with singing.” A grateful heart gives us eyes to see that God is with us and gives us courage to walk through pain. How? When we express gratitude and thanksgiving, we are reminding ourselves that “the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”
When going through difficult seasons, our impulse is often to find relief when what we really want and need is transformation. As we abide, we are transformed. As we look into the face of God, we are changed: “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Thomas Merton wrote, “The gate of heaven is everywhere.” The Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5 shares: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all things.” The invitation of God is slow down, stop, and abide with Him as you express gratefulness. When you are experiencing a desire for relief, let that be a reminder that what you really desire is God. There is nothing wrong with wanting relief, but staying with that desire can be a lock on the door of experiencing God’s presence now.
So, let gratitude ground you. Let thanksgiving return you to the present moment. For what can we be grateful? Very simply: that God is good and loving and faithful.
“Life is lived right now, in this moment. That’s an important reminder for all of us, because we tend to think, “If just this would happen, then I would be happy.” When we put a condition on our lives, we miss out on the present moment because we’re waiting for something else to happen.” Br. David Vryhof
Over the next three days, we will look at some of things that can keep us from gratitude: comparison, complaint, and certainty. Today, take a few moments and decide that you will stay where you are … with God. And then, as a desire to get away rises up, simply return to presence … presence to God in gratitude.
Here is a simple way to return to abiding with God … use three words: now, here, this. “Now” – be grounded in the present time (rejoice always). “Here” – be grounded in your present location (pray without ceasing). “This” – be grounded in the present circumstance (give thanks in all circumstances).