Can I let you in to a secret? As a Brit, I’ve often been a little bit cynical about thanksgiving. Not about the concept of saying thank you, but about the American holiday. For years I tended to adopt a particular air of indifference when it was mentioned and make an abundance of very dry, very sarcastic, comments. I’m all for gratitude where it’s due but dedicating a whole night to it? It’s just didn’t seem British.
It’s not that I didn’t believe in being thankful, I just tended towards the more subtle expression of thanks – it was my general belief that there were few things a human being could do for another that couldn’t be adequately thanked with a nod of the head and the trace of a smile. I liked to think that this emotional reserve was a positive thing but I was wrong.
Like so many other things in life, it was the church that taught me the importance of thanksgiving. At NCLC thanksgiving is placed central to everything, not just on the last week of November but every time we meet. “What are we thanking God for today?” Is heard at the start of pretty much every team gathering, connect group and team brief. Before our Sunday services start volunteers collect praise reports so that we can publicly thank God for what He’s been doing in our lives.
It’s funny how we don’t always feel like doing that. When the chips are down thanks is often the last thing on the agenda. Too often it is in our nature to allow even the slightest thing to stop us giving thanks; if we don’t guard against it we can find that we become people who will blame God when even the smallest things go wrong and yet not stop to give thanks when things go right.
One of the most famous passages about thanksgiving comes from Paul in his letter to the church at Philippi. He talks about not worrying and being anxious, so he is obviously speaking of times when situations can get on top of people, but the solution he gives is to pray and make our requests with thanksgiving.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
– Philippians 4:6-7
So no matter how stressful life becomes, we need to remain thankful. While our eyes may see a lack or a need we can’t allow them to be taken away from what we do have. Isn’t the very nature of stress, however, that it does exactly that? If only we could get some peace, we think, then we would be thankful but actually that’s the opposite of the truth. If only we could get some thankfulness, says Paul, then we would get some peace.
If only we could get some thankfulness, says Paul, then we would get some peace.
I know that this is one of those things that is sometimes substantially easier to say than it is to live. There are always things to give thanks for though, and not in a patronising and glib kind of way but in a real, true, gritty way. Even when we feel our worst there are good things, there are things to show gratitude for.
Thankfulness while under stress is a statement of defiance, a statement that no matter what happens our hope is rooted in something stress can’t touch.
Thankfulness in adversity is a great example of true strength; several times in recent years I have seen people going through pain I can’t imagine turn up at church on a Sunday, thank God for something and then worship passionately. Their outlook is a reflection not on their circumstances but on a decision to be thankful to God through them.
In a world where stress, anxiety, and related mental health conditions are on the rise, thanksgiving is one of the most effective weapons we have against those feelings. Thankfulness and gratitude aren’t superfluous displays of emotion, they’re a real and effective help in the present and a recognition that God’s reality for our lives is greater than our feelings.