This year on Thanksgiving Day, when we have our ritual of going around the table and talking about what we’re thankful for, I will be thinking about the passage from 1 Thessalonians 5:18:
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (NRSV)
Reading that passage, I zero in on the word “all” and the fact that it doesn’t say “all the good.”
Yes, of course I give thanks for all the good – and there has been much, despite 2020’s attempts to bring me (and all of us) to our knees.
But it doesn’t say give thanks for all the good. It’s a directive to give thanks in all circumstances, not just the things that worked out the way I wanted. Everything. Even the things that I could’ve done without, the things that inconvenienced me, the things that hurt.
The passage doesn’t go into why – beyond the fact that this is God’s will (which should be all the “why” I need). I can guess at some of the reasoning, though.
I give thanks for the shutdowns, even though I hated having to do it. (Maybe it brought a greater awareness of the freedoms that I tend to take for granted?)
I give thanks that the case of Covid I got was relatively mild. (Maybe that will remind me to have a more mindful attitude about my health instead of my usual cavalier mindset?)
I give thanks that I was laid off earlier this year. (Maybe it nudged me into reawakening parts of my skill set that the company brushed away when I offered them?)
Yes, I give thanks for all those circumstances – and many others – though I know not why. Discovering that some people I trusted really weren’t my friends after all: Thank you. Having to dodge potshots on social media whenever I express an unpopular opinion: Thank you. Realizing that I’m going to have to endure a season of loneliness and failure and insecurity before I can push through to the other side, without knowing how long said season lasts or where the other side actually is: Thank you.
Truth be told, my show of gratitude doesn’t come without a dash of sarcasm and cynicism. That’s how I can proclaim the part of me that craves reason, the part that must know why, is sooooo grateful. Merci, Gracias. Thenk-ewe-veddy-much. Yeah, sure, thanks a lot.
And in the end, my need to know doesn’t matter. It’s not the point.
The point is that giving thanks in all circumstances is God’s will for me. All those times I cried out to the heavens asking what God wants me to do? Well, here’s my answer. Give thanks. For everything. And He does mean everything.
I’m reminded of a story about Corrie ten Boom, a Holocaust survivor who wrote about her experiences in a concentration camp. In one of the stories in her book “The Hiding Place,” she talks about how she and her sister, Betsy, smuggled a Bible into the camp, and they held Bible studies with the women in their barracks. And oh yeah, keep in mind, at that time and place, this was an executable offense.
On one occasion, they were studying this same passage from 1 Thessalonians, and Betsy pointed out they must give thanks for everything – being in the camp, the guards, the disgusting food, the fleas.
The fleas? Corrie said no, she would not give thanks for the fleas. What possible purpose did the fleas have? They were a nuisance, a bother, a pain. No need to give thanks for something like that.
Yes, Betsy insisted, give thanks even for the fleas.
Turns out, Corrie writes, the guards were aware of the fleas and this was the reason they stayed away from their barracks. Which allowed Corrie and Betsy to hold the Bible studies in relative peace.
I give thanks for this story too. It reminds me that giving thanks doesn’t have to mean we like the circumstances or want more of them. It simply means we acknowledge that God is bigger than the circumstances, and He is in control, not us.
And I mean that literally.