By: Rev. Alexis Carter
We are people who are called to give thanks. In fact, we are people who give thanks simply by being. The air that we breathe in, the ways that our hearts beat without our willing, and the way that we find delight in an aroma that is pleasing to us—in these actions, we are offering thanks unto the God who sustains us. This is not primarily about giving thanks for our food and saying thank you after someone makes a kind gesture towards us. Our lives have more power, joy and peace when thanks giving becomes a way of life.
Two years ago, I begun a practice of giving thanks that transformed my life. Through a series of events, I came to realize how much I had not lived a life of thanks giving, but a life of entitlement and shallow thanks. This was not a reflection about how I was ungrateful towards the people who I cared for most. Moreover, it was a reflection of how my relationship with the LORD that should have been filled with the deep delight of thanksgiving had been overshadowed by the expectations of good things I thought that I deserved. I consistently looked for good and always believed that I should have that which was best. Choosing a person each day to celebrate became life giving in ways that I never expected. I would choose a person to whom I would offer thanks giving, list specific characteristics about him/her that I was thankful for, and then call to express my gratitude. I experienced an unrivaled joy in this daily spiritual discipline, and it has been a gift that I offered to those in my life while giving glory to the God who has blessed me with the good gifts. While I listened to the silence of the person as I expressed why I was thankful for him/her, my heart overflowed with thanksgiving while my brain usually struggled to give the right words to my mouth.
Then there were the “hard-thanks givings.” These were gifts that I had reason to be grateful for, but the circumstances that evoked thanks giving were uncomfortable and challenging to name. They are the good gifts often wrapped in unpleasant packaging. One was to my Dad who helped me pay back a large amount of school loans—I could not simply say, “Thank you for paying back my school loans” (that’s simple, right?). In the same conversation, true thanks-giving meant that it was necessary to thank him for his goodness and being faithful in the midst of my thanklessness and entitled attitude. He spoiled me by trying to give me the best, and I took it as if he owed me good gifts. It meant thanking the ex-boyfriend for the wisdom, support and generosity that he gifted to me and not letting these goods be overshadowed by his enlarged ego and insecurities. It was in saying to a lady in our congregation with whom I did not have a close relationship, “Thank you for your critiques and pushing against my way of doing things, because you have provided perspectives that I have needed. I have enough people who like me, so do not feel like you have to. Please do not stop sharing your voice with me, because it’s valuable and I need it even if I do not always agree with it.” As a result of these hard-thanks givings, I witnessed walls fall down to make room for more authentic and deeper relationships.
During this journey, I became thankful not simply for the big and obvious, but for the small and that which I often took for granted. I found joy in the new job, monetary gifts, and answered prayers. Yet, the surprises came when I found sweet joy in the way that the sun hit the lake and caused peace to wash over my soul; the taste and nourishment of fresh vegetables from a garden; and the way that peace and laughter combined into a thick cloud that hovered over us in the presence of enjoyable company. I thanked God for good morning runs—the way God painted the sky with a beautiful sunrise, caused my lungs to work properly, and my ligaments and joints to move without aches. I thanked God for a good dentist—he does wonderful work and I have taken for granted his skill and expertise. Are not all of these gifts from God?
It was in consciously giving thanks for the good that I learned to live a life of thanks giving—to be grateful for all and take none for granted. Ann Voskamp writes, “All is grace.” When we accept this reality, we become thankful people and even learn to offer hard-thanks givings realizing that these too are good gifts that we do not deserve. I still do not give thanks as much as I should. I no longer only celebrate the week leading up to the fourth Thursday of the eleventh month, but I have claimed thanks giving as a lifestyle in which I daily offer thanks to God and others who are vessels of God’s grace and goodness in my life.
I encourage you to take the challenge—spend some time filling moments with thanks givings that transform and hard-thanks givings that heal. Giving thanks on purpose may not change your life overnight, but it will change your heart and the ways you see the gifts in your life—take time to give thanks in ways that prevent you from taking God and God’s gifts for granted.
Thank you for reading and considering,
Alexis Nicole Carter
(Photo courtesy of Gary S. Champman @ www.garyschapman.com)