Practical Thankfulness: A Reflection

"Thank You" Image courtesy of Felixco, Inc. at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
“Thank You” Image courtesy of Felixco, Inc. at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Andrew Lazo

I’ve been thinking lately about thankfulness. In fact, I’ve been thinking about it for a number of years now, and had assumed that I had already written all I needed to say about it when I wrote about “The Practical Theology of ‘Thank You.’ But I somehow find that there’s more, especially as I think about tables and turkeys and all of that this week.

St. Paul reminds us to “give thanks in all circumstances,” and what a difference a preposition makes. I certainly can’t find any way to give thanks for all circumstances. I watch the news, plus I have a pile of papers on my desk, and so much more still to get done. Not to mention (as Michael Wilson says) an attic already full of useless guilt. Who could give thanks for all of that?

But giving thanks in all circumstances? Now, that’s a different story. In the midst of messes, in the middle of a dark wood wandering, where it sometimes seems too dark to see—that’s the perfect place to say “thank you.” If C. S. Lewis and St. Augustine are right about evil being a good thing bent the wrong way, thankfulness offers us a set of 3-D glasses to make the blurred composite colors come together and make sense.

Saying “thank you” on a regular basis allows me to repeat the practice of that vital art of seeing past my self. And I don’t know about you, but I loom too large in my own view. As a buddy says, I need a regular slurp from a big, hot, steaming mug of “get over myself.” The noted theologian James Taylor reminds me to look “Up From Your Life.” I need such reminders like hobbits need meals, “plentiful and frequent.”

So this week I’ve taken once again to willing myself over and over to give thanks. Part of that seems so easy, especially as we round to Thanksgiving Day. You see, it’s been more than twenty-five years since I spent this holiday with my nuclear family. All families struggle, and mine more than most. We were never that close, and sometimes the normal way trouble makes people drift away can turn into tectonic shift, and the continent of native love never looks the same again.

Ironically, this sad fact makes me the more thankful, because God has alchemically transformed that loneliness into an embarrassment of riches. For at this season and so many others, I inevitably find myself welcomed to tables, and every year have more invitations than I know what to do with. So many sweet friends have so often pulled out a chair and later sent me home with loads of leftovers.

And, experience tells me, many more of you would do the same, I have no doubt. And not only for a Thursday in November, either. Among the blessings I regularly count, the welcome so many of you have shown me leaps to the top of the list.

I look “up from my life” very often by marveling at the tables that welcome me. Your friendship extended, the genuine joy to bring me into your midst—this kindness through years and across miles gives me with more than enough fuel to rekindle the fire of thankfulness. And I warm myself at this fire all the time.

And how can I not say “thank you” for the richness of these friends, these lives that love me, you spectacular people who keeps smiling when I walk into your doors? I dare not begin to name you nor to describe your graciousness to me, out of the simple fear that I’d never stop.

So what’s the point? For me, it all comes down to this. Twenty years ago and more, Phil Keaggy who often invited me to his and Bernadette’s amazing table, used to walk with me in Tennessee woods every Wednesday morning. And during those walks we’d sometimes stop at a soaking machine and read a Psalm.

One day he as we soaked, Phil read Psalm 68:6: “God sets the lonely in families.” That scripture struck me then and has stayed with me ever since. And Mary Oliver writes much the same thing in “Wild Geese:”

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

This then is why I give thanks. Doing so doesn’t negate the possibility of great loneliness or pain, nor does it undo the damage done. I know my fair share about all of that. But thankfulness responds to pain neither blithely nor with a glib, pat answer. Saying “thank you” perhaps offers me the smallest but most perfectly crafted means to keeping the two great commandments, to love God, and to love one another.

In a very practical way then, “thank you” incarnates faith, and hope, and love, because it takes great will sometimes, and all the faith, and hope, and love I can muster to unclench my teeth and speak words of gratitude into terribly hard circumstances.

Saying “thank you” serves as defiance against the artificial darkness of this silent planet, this fallen world. “Thank you” hears the music of the spheres and joins the refrain. It rejects the false, jangling voice of doubt.

It looks up from this particular life, the all-consuming circumstance and says, “Ok. But there’s more.” It sees to the end of the story which is itself a celebration and a feast. And at that richest of tables a seat awaits us all, or at least those of us who will say, “yes.” “Thank you” is a way of saying yes to the hands of love that hold me, like finding in my pocket an invitation to the very best of banquets.

Yes, no doubt that in this world we will have trouble, and no wonder, either; our Master promised us as much. But then he charged us to take heart, to skip to the end of the story. He has overcome the world. And, in him, we have too.

How do we take heart? Today, right now, it seems somehow almost a simple task. Just say “thank you.” Sit down to table and tuck in. See in these shadows the dawning of a day that is surely coming.

And (all the more) even if you don’t particularly feel it right now, give thanks anyway, trusting that, beyond belief, God will make future good out of present gratitude, even in doubt and difficulty.

And, of course, he will. Of course he will. And because he will, I say thank you. What else can I do?

*****

Andrew Lazo is a teacher, writer, and sought-after speaker on C.S. Lewis and the Inklings. Read more from him at his website: http://andrewlazo.com

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