I find that I can explain away the wisdom of God in Scripture with the best of them. For instance, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Really? In everything?
The late Henri Nouwen wrote, “To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives, the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the rewards as well as the rejections — that requires hard spiritual work.”
Ingratitude lands us in the place of despair. You could say that the primal sin of Adam and Eve was ingratitude. Surrounded by magnificence, they turned from it and focused on the one thing they could not possess. The Apostle Paul identifies the refusal to live thankfully as the first step humans take toward hell (Romans 1:21).
We face the same fateful choice. None of us want our lives to slide into despair and anger; that in the end life is just absurd. We want to wake up in heaven with a deep gratitude because we have accepted of all of life as a grace — as an undeserved and unearned gift from the Father’s hand.
What can we do to successfully integrate and accept the whole of our life story?
In the midst of our “everything” we can focus our gratitude in two directions.
As we give heartfelt thanks toward the past, we experience freedom from resentment and bitterness. Nouwen writes again, “As long as we keep dividing our lives between events and people we would like to remember and those we would rather forget, we cannot claim the fullness of our beings as a gift of God to be grateful for.”
Those who have suffered horrible abuse will tell you that the moment of their deep healing came when they honestly said, “What was meant for evil, God turned for good” (Genesis 50:20).
We also can express thanks for what hasn’t happened yet. An unresolved past will lead us to hedge our bets, play it safe and minimize future exposure. The answer to this fear is deciding that God will work in all our tomorrows. Paul testified to what he had learned: “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day” (2 Timothy 1:12).
These two directions of gratitude work together. Rather than write universal rules of conduct by which we keep ourselves safe, by God’s grace we arrive at a life posture that is genuine, personal and everlasting. For the Christian, that understanding is portrayed in the person and work of Jesus Christ, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is now set down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
Thanks be to God!
Russel Jarvis has lived in Hancock County since 1989 and has served as the lead chaplain at Hancock Regional Hospital since August 2003. He enjoys golf, old movies, reading and celebrating life with his wife and children. This weekly column is written by local clergy members.