“In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
You know that Thanksgiving tradition of going around the dinner table asking each person for what he or she is most thankful? One easy way for me to respond would be to say, “I’m thankful for my family.” Simple and, perhaps, cliché – yet, this gratitude is so profoundly, undeniably, and unshakably true that I do feel compelled to say it aloud whenever situations allow. May I write out right now: Thank You, God, for the awesome blessing of my family and friends!!!
Yes. It is good to express gratitude out loud for good people and genuinely praise God for them. But…
In the Bible verse that I quoted from St. Paul, it doesn’t say to give thanks for the nice things in your life. It says to give thanks in all circumstances. And this calls to my mind the words of Jesus, who reminded us that it is easy to love the people who love us – but what about the people who hate us? Christ calls us to cast into the deep, to not be bound to what comes naturally to us as creatures of the flesh, but to transcend instinct and do what is supernatural, what is divine, responding in accordance to the spirit within us.
As we, then, are radically called to love our enemies, we are also radically called to give thanks in all circumstances. Yup, all of them. If we are in the midst of an unjust situation, then we are called to be thankful for the opportunity to practice virtue, to right a wrong, and to share God’s compassion. If we are in the midst of grieving the death of a loved one, then we are called to be thankful for having known and loved this precious person, who is thankfully not lost, but alive in Christ for all eternity.
This gratitude doesn’t mean that we are called to be complacent. We pray for the courage to change the things that we can… but we also pray for the serenity to accept the things that we cannot change.
One Big Thing That I Cannot Change
As great as modern medicine is, as wonderful as the new treatment for my disease is and may be for others, I cannot be cured of my severe disability. (Well… since I’m writing this as a person of faith, I suppose I should add “unless God wills it” – as in a miracle. Further thoughts on that will have to be for another reflection, though.) Among the constant facts of my circumstance are these: I am deformed; I am weaker in my torso, neck, and extremities than a newborn; I am completely dependent upon others for daily acts of survival; I will have a shortened lifespan.
And, I am thankful.
I can’t say that I’m thankful for my disease and disability. While I’m still breathing the air of earth, I don’t know that I ever will. Don’t worry, I’m not being hard on myself for this – I’m a normal human. But… But, if this is the shape and form that my earthly life needs to take in order for me to be, in order for me to exist as a living human being on earth, then, well… I am thankful… I am grateful for my life.
When asked that Thanksgiving Dinner question, I have said, “I’m grateful to be alive.” I mean, yes, that I am thankful for having far surpassed my life expectancy of 13 years – and, this year, I have extra thanks for coming through pneumonia, anemia and severe pain – plus a cancer scare. (Thank You, God!) I also mean, however, that I am truly glad and grateful to exist.
You exist, too! Do you know how amazing that is??? It’s such a profoundly good and precious thing to be a living human being on earth that God became one.
… Think on that….
Being Thankful for Everything
The last time that I was asked for what I was most thankful, I said, “I’m thankful for everything. And that’s what I mean: everything.” This is the closest that I’ve come to St. Paul’s exhortation to give thanks in all circumstances.
With that, let me try, now, to answer the radical call of Christianity and give thanks to God for those things for which humans would not normally be thankful…
For that wheeze that I just heard in my chest – thanks be to God.
For not being able to move from this spot in which I am seated and the discomfort of my head flopped all the way over to the left, resting on the deformity that is my shoulder/spine, discomfort that, unless another human being picks me up and changes my position, will result in biting pain – thanks be to God.
For the minor disagreements that I have with my mother (we are too alike, sometimes) and the minor annoyances that I feel toward my father (we are too close, sometimes) and for not being able to do things my way or do things on my own – thanks be to God.
For never walking, for never being kissed, for never getting married, for never having children (gulp) – thanks be to God.
Okay. That last one was rough. And not fully genuine. Because, in all of the others I can think of reasons why I should be grateful:
I can only wheeze if I am breathing. Thank God that I am breathing!
I am stuck in this spot because my dad is strong enough to sit me up in my wheelchair so that I can use my computer – and I can only feel pain if I am alive. Thank God for my dad’s strength, for my wheelchair, for my computer, and for being alive!
I can only have disagreements and annoyances with my parents if my parents are alive and in close relationship with me. Thank God for my parents! (Extra exclamation points on that one!!!!!!!)
And… I accept my life as it is – but grateful for my disability? I could be thankful for my debilitating disease and the things I’ll never do because I’m better able to be still and know that God is God and because I have more opportunity to express wisdom through words… (opportunities I let slide way to often). But…… I don’t really mean it.
I know that that I could have it so much worse, for there are far more terrible things that happen to people everywhere, like cancer or the death of children. And I can’t see the reason for these tragedies – I don’t know why they happen, they just do. This is how this life works. Maybe it’s fruitless to try to see concrete cause and effect in order to be grateful. Rather, in working on being thankful for this life, I will strive to see the beauty, the goodness, the rightness, the joy in this life…
God sees it and knows better than we the why and the how. Life is a Mystery. God sees the good. (And, Mysteriously, it is all good…)
May I, too, see my blessings. May I have the serenity to accept all of the circumstances that are the will of God for me. May I give thanks to God for blessings, seen and unseen, by living a life of gratitude – and by so living a life of gratitude, shine forth the glorious light of Christ within me (thanks be to God.) And may I recognize the circumstances and situations in other people’s lives that I can help change for the better so that they, too, may be grateful for the love, support, and assistance that they receive – and when they receive it through me, may they see God’s love at work and give thanks in all circumstances.
May we be radically grateful.
© 2017 Christina Chase
 1 Thessalonians 5:18
The Serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” –Reinhold Niebuhr