“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (NLT).
I used to find 1 Thessalonians 5:18 a troubling verse.
Be thankful FOR all things that happen to us?
As a pastor, how would I tell someone who has cancer to be thankful for cancer, for this is God’s will for them?
How would I comfort a parent who has lost a young child with the words, “Be thankful for your loss, for this is God’s will for you?”
It seems this statement would do more harm than good for someone walking through pain or hardship.
As I was preparing my sermon on “The Practice of Thankfulness,” this verse haunted me. Am I really supposed to be thankful for the terrible things that happen to me? And this is God’s will? Yikes! That could mess with your head and heart!
A few days later, a physical struggle taught me an important lesson about this troublesome verse.
A lesson on the mountain
Together with a few other parents, I headed up to Cypress Mountain to meet up with my son on his school ski club trip. We caught up with our kids and then stayed into the evening to ski. It was a bit foggy, but I was so thankful to be there to ski.
On my third run of the night, while my speed was at its peak, I crossed skis with one of the students.
It all happened so fast. All I remember is that I went down hard. The fall made a yard sale out of my equipment and me! Thankfully, the student was unharmed.
I sat there in shock. My right shoulder – badly dislocated – was in excruciating pain.
A couple of the dads guided me down to look for help. As we made our way to the medical hut, one of my son’s friends said to me, “I think that you are really brave!” What sweet and encouraging words to hear at such a time.
At that moment, I started thinking about the verse: “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for those that belong to Christ Jesus.”
These words were replaying in my head…
…as my friends carried me to the medical attendant,
…as someone took my helmet off,
…as the ski patrol and friends gently took off my new ski jacket so it wouldn’t have to be cut,
…as someone put my arm into a sling,
…as someone exchanged my ski boots for my shoes so I would feel more comfortable,
…as my niece got the car ready to transport me to emergency,
…as the ski patrol told jokes to make me laugh,
…as other parents took care of my son so he could continue to ski and have fun,
…as a friend took care of all of the details, even putting the address of the hospital into Google maps so that my niece from Manitoba could drive me to the hospital efficiently.
While I was experiencing some of the worst pain ever, something shifted in my mind.
Though I was not necessarily thankful FOR this circumstance, I was thankful IN it.
I was thankful for the needle that the nurse used so that the drugs could easily access my body and alleviate some of the pain.
I was thankful for the laughing gas they gave me so the doctor could put my shoulder back into place.
I was overwhelmed with thankfulness for the care many people gave in the midst of my pain and confusion.
Eyes to see
“One of the most important – and most neglected – elements in the beginnings of the interior life is the ability to respond to reality, to see the value and the beauty in ordinary things, to come alive to the splendour that is all around us.”—Thomas Merton
On that Friday night, I was keenly aware of the splendour of the people around me who cared for me in my pain. That alone is a gift – to have eyes to see such things in the middle of our circumstances.
May God grant us eyes to see the beauty around us, so that we can be a thankful people IN all circumstances – even the hard, painful, and confusing ones.
And may we be a people who can hold up and care well for others in their circumstances.