Every morning I sit at our kitchen table and write three things I am thankful for. This was not my idea, it was God's and Ann Voskamp,and a few others in the history of Christianity.
After a particularly dry and difficult season I took a trip to one of my most favourite cities. All I wanted to do was put my feet in the ocean and let the waves wash away all that was broken, all that had happened and was happening and bring back new life to my worn and weary person. I was sure that God would speak to me here about how to heal and forgive and move forward with grace. Surely, I would find the silver bullet I was looking for at the ocean's edge. Surely, if I could just create the right ambiance, I would be able to invoke the presence of God and he would solve all my problems.
With the help of my husband I was able to carve out my moment. A child free, baby free, stand in the ocean moment. We visited my favourite beach on a beautiful sunny day and I stood at the ocean's edge with eyes closed and waited.
This was my moment. What was God going to do? Would he send an eagle to land on my shoulder? Perhaps a humpback whale would breach just as I opened my eyes. Or maybe there was a sea otter at my feet waiting to hand me a sea shell. Or would it be a heavenly finger reaching down and writing in the sand? I would not have been surprised by anything. Something big was going to happen, I could just feel it.
I opened my eyes and....nothing. I waited longer and nothing. Just the sound of ocean and people and seagulls and wind.
Finally, a quiet, firm voice said, “Thankfulness.” And that was it.
Thankfulness?!?!? How does this solve the problems, the hurts, the tiredness, and the soul ache? Thankfulness? I am terrible at thankfulness. I always find myself saying things that I feel like I should be thankful for, ways in which my life is better than someone worse off than me.
“I'm thankful that all my limbs work.”
“I'm thankful that I don't have a respiratory disease.”
“I'm thankful I wasn't in that car crash.”
“I'm thankful I'm not like that person.”
Jesus told a story about people like me. A parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector. “God, I thank you that I am not like these other people...” (Luke 18:11) People with proud and hard hearts. Guilty.
Thankfulness. What was I supposed to do with that? My spiritual muscles were so weak in this area where would I even begin?
This was not the word I was hoping for but disobedience would be worse and so I went home and made a thankfulness board. I bought poster board and in my most creative writing wrote a thankfulness verse at the center. And I tried to come up with things I was thankful for and my family said things they were thankful for and we wrote them on the poster board. And it was a fun thing to do as a family. And we were thankful. We kept it up for a few months but my heart still felt hard and the quick transformation I had hoped for was not happening. I was writing it but my heart was not feeling it. My heart was not being changed. I soon forgot about it. But God is so gracious and patient. He waited.
Fast forward two years. I had come upon an article by The Happiness Institute about Daily Happiness Habits. And #2 on the list was....you guessed it.... “Gratitude”.
Then a few weeks later, Ann Voskamp's book “One Thousand Gifts.” was available on my library holds list. I had heard many people rave about it but I hadn't had the time to read it with a little baby and two other kids.
Ann Voskamp talks about all the words built into the word thankfulness. “ The root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning “grace.” Jesus took the bread and saw it as grace and gave thanks. He took the bread and knew it to be gift and gave thanks. Eucharisteo, thanksgiving, envelopes the Greek word for grace, charis. But it also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning “joy.” Charis. Grace. Eucharisteo. Thanksgiving. Chara. Joy.”
And still further
“This is the crux of Christianity: to remember, and give thanks: eucharisteo. Why? Why is remembering and giving thanks the core of the Christ-faith? Because remembering with thanks is what causes us to trust; to really believe. Re-membering, giving thanks, is what makes us a member again of the body of Christ. Re-membering, giving thanks is what puts us back together again in this hurried, broken, fragmented world.
I so desperately wanted to trust God in the midst of my hurried, busy, fragmented and broken life. But I have always struggled to do that. I am naturally untrusting. So, in an act of faith, I started a thankfulness journal. I'm currently sitting at #471.
My thankfulness journal has all the entries you might expect to see: my husband, my children, my parents, strawberries, sunflowers, first summer peach, warm cups of tea but it also has entries like “anxiety that keeps me entirely reliant on God” or “tears for the world”. These entries are there because if Jesus could thank God for the bread, the very bread that he knew represented the excruciating sacrifice he would offer in only a handful of hours, then I can thank God for the things I find difficult. And somewhere, in a supernatural and mystical way I find joy. Ann calls it hard eucharisteo. I am trying to practice hard eucharisteo as well. To thank God for the hard things that come as well as the good.
I am slowly, ever so slowly, finding joy in my weaknesses. Joy still seems like too strong of a word. But I am starting to understand them as places God can be glorified, that God has given as a gift to learn more about him, to trust him, to lean into him and to stay connected with him. And they do this in a deeper way than my strengths do. My strengths might keep me close with God one day too, but right now it's a lot about weakness. And I can either be angry, annoyed or weighed down by my weaknesses or I can try and return thanks and find joy.
And sometimes that thanks comes with tears and choking on the words and doubt about the craziness of being thankful for the easy and the hard, the strengths and the weaknesses. But I am working on finding beauty in the broken, in the distorted, and in the fragments. The seed is thankfulness and the fruit is joy.
God knew in that moment, on the beach, that though I asked for a silver bullet what I needed was joy. I wanted a quick fix, an immediate healing with a hint of divine retribution, and he told me to be thankful. The particularly difficult and dry season had left it's mark but what it had taken more deeply was my joy in life. It had taken my hope. And the real way forward for me was the way of thankfulness because this would foster joy. There was no whale that day, no sea otter but there was a voice. And after 3 years, I can feel that my mind and my life are being transformed by this tiny daily act and joy is regrowing in the deepest parts of my soul. And I am thankful.