Thursday, November 21, 2019

Being Thankful for All Things

(Note: this piece was originally written as a devotional column for my town's local newspaper)

          At our house, we have a “thanks jar” that we put on the dining room table at this time of year. Every now and then, after a meal or in the course of a day, we’ll write something we’re thankful for and slip it into the jar. The idea is that, when Thanksgiving comes, we’ll be able to open the jar and read through the many blessings that make up the fabric of our days. Of course, with three children in the house, you’re never quite sure what interesting little thanksgivings will pop up on those slips of paper. One of my sons wrote down that he’s thankful that his siblings have taught him how to climb the walls of our house all the way up to the ceiling. (Strangely, though, neither I nor my wife have included that particular development in our list of thanksgivings.) And my daughter, at five years old, who has probably never spent a full day without electricity in her life, and has only the vaguest idea of what it even is, nevertheless wrote down in giant, blockish letters that she is thankful for electricity.
          That’s one of the wonderful things about childlike gratitude, though. We adults too often become jaded by life, or familiar enough with the appropriate answers so that we can rattle off the standard list of things we ought to be thankful for—family, friends, food, etc.—without it making much of an impact on us. But kids have a marvelous capacity for wide-eyed wonder, for seeing this incredible world as the gift that it is. They are able to be grateful for the smallest things and the biggest things, all at the same time: for the toy in their hand or the meal set before them (as one son wrote down on his slip, for “glorious food!”), as well as being thankful for the entire universe. It’s not uncommon to find thanksgivings in our jar that relay gratitude for things like our sun, our galaxy, or all the people in the entire world. Indeed, this year there’s a note in there that doesn’t have any words at all on it, just a little drawing of the planet Earth. And always alongside their big-picture awe and wonder is their endless ability to be amazed at the smallest, most everyday things. On their birthdays, we ask our kids what the best part of the past year has been for them, and have often gotten answers like “cheese,” “bugs,” or “this cake!”
          It seems to me that this sort of awestruck delight, directed at everything God has given us, is exactly the sort of attitude we should emulate. The universe truly is big with wonder, and we fail to see it only because we have grown too dull in our senses, too caught up with the endless circuit of busyness to stop and drink it all in. We need, at least once in a while, to slow down and remember the truth behind the words of that old Shaker hymn, “Tis a gift to wake and breathe the morning air.” Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:3, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” So as we move toward Thanksgiving this year, I would encourage you to take a few moments to stop and consider the overwhelming goodness of God, displayed around us on every side. The Bible declares that he is the giver of all good gifts, and that he loves to give good things to his children. So come to him in humble gratitude, and let him pour wonder, awe, and delight back into your soul.

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