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Somewhere between “grudgery and gratitude”

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Thanksgiving. Sometimes it feels like a one-weekend reprieve between the crush of back-to-school and the crass commercialism of Christmas. Its original intent was a day carved out to pause and reflect on the goodness of God and the generosity he demonstrates to us.

But in a society where we’ve increasingly lost touch with our agrarian and spiritual roots, we also seem to have lost some vital thanksgiving rituals that could further assist us in cultivating a harvest of gratitude in our busy lives.

I grew up in a farming community so, for us, Thanksgiving was a big deal. With hundreds of hectares of wheat, soy, and canola under careful cultivation, and sophisticated machinery to keep the large wheels of modern agri-business running, Thanksgiving was still a very simple and almost archaic celebration.

The men would bring a sheaf of wheat to the front of the church. The women would bring canning and produce of various kinds, and it would all be presented at the altar as a kind of thank offering (Leviticus 7:12–14) for God’s amazing grace and provision. We would sing simple songs and acknowledge that “we plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land, but it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand.” Bringing in the sheaves was a simple but profound way of saying to the Lord and to the gathered faith community that we are wholly and humbly dependent on him for our daily bread.

But with most of us living far from our food sources, and with chip-enabled plastic cards automating the transactions that connect us to our daily needs, how do we intentionally  xperience and express this same kind of gratitude?

How, when, and for what

Some of us give thanks in song. This not only has solid basis in Scripture (Ezra 3:11; Psalm 69:30, 95:2; Jeremiah 30:19; Nehemiah 12:26–47), but also makes it possible for non-farmers to participate. Still others offer prayers of thanksgiving (1 Timothy 2:1; Philemon 1:4) before meals or extemporaneously in corporate worship.

But there is a curious breadth of Scripture, however, that focuses not only on how we give thanks to the Lord, but also when and for what. It is here that we find thanksgiving can take root and grow in the surprisingly fertile soil of ordinary life.

We are invited to offer thanks simply when God brings someone to our mind (Philippians 1:3); when we enjoy good food (1 Timothy 4:4); when we witness someone’s faith grow (2 Thessalonians 1:3); when we observe generosity in the lives of others (2 Corinthians 9:11); when someone comes to faith (2 Corinthians 4:15); when we ask something of God (Philippians 4:6); or when a person exercises his or her spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 14:16). There is also a long list of references where the mechanics of thanksgiving are completely subsumed in the rush toward the ultimate object of our thanks and praise: the Lord!

But the real challenge for most of us isn’t spiritual; it’s practical. How do we wring thanksgiving out of the watery messes of everyday floods?

G.K. Chesterton once suggested “the greatest of poems is an inventory,” and Canadian author and farmer Ann Voskamp takes this idea to new heights in her delightful book One Thousand Gifts. In it, she tells of how she was becoming consumed with the challenges of raising six kids, being caught off guard by grief, and missing God’s peace and presence.

Her solution? Make a list. Voskamp began a gratitude journal project, writing down the smallest evidences of God’s grace she could find each day as a way of priming the pump of praise. Eventually, her list reached one thousand items and she’s still going strong.

Voskamp wryly notes that for most of us, “every breath’s a battle between grudgery and gratitude and we must keep thanks on the lips so we can sip from the holy grail of joy.” I’ve started keeping my own list because I realized gratitude is like any spiritual practice – it needs to be repeated in order to take root and grow in a person’s heart and life.

So this Thanksgiving, if you find yourself lost somewhere between grudgery and gratitude, start making a list and see how far it takes you. I’m fairly sure you’ll end up affirming with the psalmist that “the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” (100:5).

Brad Sumner is part of the pastoral team at Jericho Ridge Community Church, Langley, B.C., and is grateful for the refreshing and generous gift of a sabbatical this past summer.
Psalm 100:4
(link to BibleGateway.com)

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his

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