One thing I have been focused on (and struggling with) lately is recognizing today’s blessings and trying not to focus on wanting tomorrow’s blessings today. I find this difficult because today’s blessings come with so much baggage and difficulty, while tomorrow’s blessings shine with the promise of smooth sailing. I look for little moments of “blessing” in my life, but, still see a large amount of chaos and difficulty. Rather like seeing several rose bushes with far more thorns than roses. Seen this way life becomes about picking the little blessings out of the midst of difficulty. As I was thinking about Thanksgiving I was counting my blessings, the roses in my garden, and then I ran across this quote.
“My God, I have never thanked Thee for my ‘thorn!’ I have thanked Thee a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my ‘thorn;’ I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross as itself a present glory. Teach me the glory of my cross; teach me the value of my ‘thorn.’ Show me that I have climbed to Thee by the path of pain. Show me that my tears have made my rainbow.” –George Matheson, (1842–1906)
Matheson seems have considered something that I have not really understood, what I consider blessings are simply those things which went the way I wanted them to go. When I have counted my blessings I probably disregarded many blessings because I could not see them in the proper light. I also need to be thankful for those things which were difficult and caused me hardship, because they were chances to grow more like God. The sailor does not consider the storm a blessing, except that “calm seas cannot make a great sailor”. I would love to dismiss Matheson except that his sentiment is widely shared within the Church, as a small sampling:
“The Lord afflicts us at times; but it is always a thousand times less than we deserve, and much less than many of our fellow-creatures are suffering around us. Let us therefore pray for grace to be humble, thankful, and patient.” –John Newton
“The best helps to growth in grace are the ill usage, the affronts, and the losses which befall us. We should receive them with all thankfulness, as preferable to all others, were it only on this account, that our will has no part therein.” –John Wesley
“Thanksgiving is inseparable from true prayer; it is almost essentially connected with it. One who always prays is ever giving praise, whether in ease or pain, both for prosperity and for the greatest adversity. He blesses God for all things, looks on them as coming from Him, and receives them for His sake- not choosing nor refusing, liking or disliking, anything, but only as it is agreeable or disagreeable to His perfect will.” -John Wesley
“Pride slays thanksgiving, but an humble mind is the soil out of which thanks naturally grow.” –Henry Ward Beecher
“We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good, if bad, because it works in us patience, humility and the contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.”–C.S. Lewis
Reading all of these quotes back to back and as a whole we can see a very profound idea develop. As humans, we often feel we deserve something better than what is happening this is our pride, this pride kills thanksgiving (Beecher). But, if we can recognize that we through our sin deserve far worse than anything which has happened to us (Newton), we can then learn to pray in the midst of our difficulty and prayer leads to thanksgiving (Wesley), in both the good and bad times (Lewis). Then perhaps we can reach Chesterton’s idea that: “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” –G.K. Chesterton
What I struggle with, and I think others do too, is that I want to pick and choose the blessings in my life and be thankful for those, while disregarding everything else. What happens then is that when my negative moments significantly outweigh my blessings I grow less thankful, only seeing the negative. Then I start wishing for something else, some future in which my problems have left. This type of response forgets what God can do for me here and now. Instead of longing for tomorrow’s blessings I need to see today as a blessing, to begin to change myself and how I approach the world. As Wesley put it, it is when I am abused or lose that I can best exemplify Christ in me; it is in these times that I truly show the world what it means to call myself Christian. Many in the United States will gather around tables on Thursday celebrating the blessings of the year, the wealth, the health, the family, the friends (and these are wonderful things which need to be celebrated); but, will they think of the trials. Will we all think, “God thank you for showing me your love when I lost my job”, or, “Thank you for the witness I could have when I was in the hospital”, or, “Thank you that I realized the hope of the kingdom when my friend passed suddenly”? These are the dark times in life and are difficult to be tankful in, but, for the mature these are times which can bring one closest to God. Our goal in this world is to grow closer to and become more like God and to do so we must walk through the dark times with God.
I would not sit here and attempt to say that we should look forward to the difficult times as we look forward to the good times. Christianity does not take a masochistic approach to life, we are not called to be doom and gloom. But much of life is living in the difficulties and growing stronger through the tough times. We cannot grow stronger until we understand that God is with us in these times and deserves as much or more thanks for that than when we get what we enjoy.
As you sit around your table this Thanksgiving take time to note all of the good God has given you over the last year, and remember to try to give thanks for the way God came to you in the turbulence. God is willing that you should walk the rainbow path, but, rainbows only come after one has endured the rain.