Thanksgiving. It marks the beginning of a season of traditions, family, and food. It's the time of year when we're especially grateful for our blessings - even those extra-crazy family members. A time of reflection and warm fuzzies. Of celebration and contentment. Of sincere goodwill among
In Sunday School yesterday, we considered gratefulness. We discussed how it is often the foil, in the Bible, to sin (Romans 1:21), and how its simple expression can completely change one's perspective and attitude. We listed several daily "taken-for-granted" aspects of our lives for which we ought to remember to give thanks (health, cleaning supplies, clothing). We touched on the fact that grief and thankfulness are not mutually exclusive.
But what I didn't volunteer in the course of our discussion was that, for me lately, the emotion which follows gratefulness most closely is guilt. In the evenings, climbing shivering-ly into bed (we have heat, but I have a sis that sleeps with her window open), I whisper a quick thanks to God for thick, flannel sheets. Almost immediately, though, I'm ashamed of my opulent life in which I'm coddled by flannel sheets which I had ample money to buy, a quilt sewn by my mum because she's alive, healthy, and loves me, and the thick wool blanket I bought while visiting Scotland several years ago on pleasure. What am I doing with such luxuries? Is it right to live like this, with people around the world in such want? When my own brothers and sisters in Christ have had their possessions confiscated? While they cling to God, am I clinging to comfort?
This past weekend, hurrying to my car after a concert, I passed a homeless man, arranging his belongings around him for the evening. Ice is in the air, and for a moment I wondered if I should give him my scarf, but I held back. "This isn't just a random scarf. Mum made it for me. It'd be different if it was one I'd bought for myself..." - my mind flurried with these comforts as I quickened my stride, but are they true? Thankful as I was for the warmth in which I was wrapped, I walked right past someone who probably would have benefited greatly from my "blessing". Is gratefulness genuine - God-honoring - if it results in hoarding? Do I really understand imitating Christ if I receive things and fail to turn around and give them away again?
"[Giving] thanks in all circumstances", as the Scriptures instruct, is not the same as "giving thanks for all circumstances." I think this is how people can be grateful even in the face of the ravages of sin. Death, disease, devaluation of life - these realities are not how life was meant to be; they are not what God pronounced "good"; they are the results of sin, not the blessings of God. But the grateful person gains a perspective beyond his immediate pain, grief, shame, or despair. He knows that "yet God sits enthroned," that because of His multitudinous grace, things will be brought together for good, whether the individual lives to see that good or not (somewhat like Hebrews 11:13).
I'm not quite sure how, yet, but I feel the above thoughts are the beginning of my answers. That while I can give thanks for flannel sheets, or warm scarves, my habit of gratefulness should not actually be tied to physical comforts - or even necessities - but to an awareness of who I am in God's sight, and yet what He did for me. If my value is not in possessions, or health, or friends, and yet I am grateful, what changes in my lifestyle?
This doesn't answer the persistent, discomforting feeling that it's wrong to live in such ease, to not be giving everything but the bare minimum away; I want to know how I should respond.
How do you practice gratefulness? Do you feel guilty giving thanks for comforts and extras? How do you resolve your comforts with the great needs in the world - particularly those of our persecuted brothers and sisters?
Photo 1: LABabble. Fall Leaves. 18 October 2009. Flickr Creative Commons.
Photo 2: ryry17. Poverty. 28 December 2007. Flickr Creative Commons.