It was one of the warmest weeks of the summer – lawn-cutting season at its peak. Trees were green, birds were busy, flowers were flush with colour, while the humidity made every activity damp and plodding.
One of Cheryl’s recent paintings needed framing so we took advantage of a lazy day and headed to Lowes to collect some materials for the project. I admit I wasn’t ready for what met me when I walked into the store. In fact, what I faced was so unexpected that I did a double-take as my brain struggled to engage.
There, occupying a large section of prime retail floor space, stood a mountain of gruesome gravestones, haunted house facades, and crazed jack-o-lanterns. The whole scene was drowned in orange lights, faux cobwebs, and enough plastic lawn inflatables to satisfy every poor taste. Halloween had arrived … in July.
But far in the background, behind the sprawling Halloween city, I caught sight of something even more insidious. There, alone but defiant, stood two Christmas trees. One was green, one was white, and they were guarding a wall of shelving that had been emptied and readied to receive a shipment of green and white reinforcements.
Did I mention this was in July?
Mind you, I get it: Halloween is good because costumes + candy has to be awesome, and Christmas is good because presents + Jesus has to be awesomer. So why was I so uneasy with them making their mark in July? Why did I find the early decorations so vexing and hollow?
I realized the reason for my discomfort last week when we went to the grocery store to buy a turkey for our family gathering. As we rummaged through the freezer looking for one in a size XL, it suddenly hit me. Somehow the season of harvest and thanks had been lost in the glitzy commercialism of the more profitable holidays. I hadn’t heard a word about Thanksgiving and it was only days away!
Each year the U.S. version of the thanks giving gets caught up in the frantic kick off to Christmas, while here in Canada it gets lost earlier while we are looking forward to the parties and noise on the horizon. In each case, giving thanks is the understudy to the bigger, shinier star celebrations.
That’s why pausing to be thankful is so difficult: it takes time away from enjoying the things we should be thankful for.
There is a biblical story told about ten lepers who pled with Jesus to heal them. When they began to follow his instructions they realized they had already been healed. Naturally they were all overjoyed and went dancing away to create healthy, new biographies of their own.
But one of them paused, and took the time to go back to thank Jesus. One. The other nine were just as healed – they were just too busy enjoying themselves to say thank you. That’s okay, Jesus didn’t do healings for thanks.
But still … just one. And even then it was an afterthought.
He is the focus of the story. He took the time to reflect. He understood that there was something more beneficial to his healing than just the physical act itself.
The text goes on to describe Jesus telling the man that his thankfulness has “saved” him, or literally, “delivered” him. The implication is that his thankfulness had unlocked some other level of wellness greater than a simple healing.
And it’s true, isn’t it? It is easier to enjoy the benefits we receive than to pause and be grateful for them. We shouldn’t turn away from the sources of good in our lives – we should turn toward them.
Thankfulness isn’t a happy-go-lucky feeling, it’s something we choose to do. It’s intentional; an activity we integrate into our daily living. When we begin the habit of thankfulness it has a way of filtering and cleansing our thoughts from the impurities of self-interest. That’s why we teach our children to say thank you.
Being thankful expands the volume of our souls. It takes us outside of our pleasures and accomplishments and reminds us that we only exist because of kindness and generosity.
There’s another detail in the story of the ten lepers that I skipped. The one who returned to say thank you was a foreigner. A Samaritan. An outsider. A castoff within a group of castoffs.
You see, thankfulness doesn’t happen naturally to those who are accomplished, blessed, or popular. It seems that gratitude grows more strongly out of neediness or unworthiness. As usual, Jesus reminds us that ‘the least’ among us have the most understanding.
Well, I am on the least-list, so I have no intention of skimping on Thanksgiving this year. I won’t be overlooking it even if there is glitter and excitement on the other side of it. Over the next few days I will stop and search for the goodness around me, integrate thankfulness into my thinking, and then say so.
So I return, here and now, to say thank you to you.
Thank you for reading and considering my ramblings in this blog and thank you for not yelling too loudly when you disagree with me. Thank you to the regular core of my readership who follow the blog faithfully. Thank you to those of you who catch up on my writings from time to time. Thank you for those times when you repost or share our blog and our readership skyrockets.
Thank you to Cheryl who provides and maintains this platform and who continues to be my biggest encourager and advocate.
But mostly, thank you to God for the talent and freedom I have to speak about things that matter. Thank you Father, for walking with me, kicking me, carrying me, and loving me without reservation. You’re showing me there is much more to be said and I am grateful for that purpose.
I’m going to stick my neck out a bit. One of the reasons I write is to reach out to the many people who struggle with the inconsistencies, assumptions, untruths, and dangers of church and christians. I know many people who believe in God but choose to keep a distance from church because they’ve been burned, disillusioned, exhausted, confused by what they have witnessed. Others are still in church but are tired, disappointed, and dry.
I want you to know that God understands and even encourages you to open your heart and mind to new possiblities. God is bigger than you think and safer than you think. There are many, many people who are searching for a deeper faith because they know God is better than this. It is a new reformation.
So, with the encouragement of my wife (and others), I am going to begin inserting occasional blog references about some of my spiritual wrestlings over the years. I’m not doing this because I feel accomplished, or have a roadmap, or feel 100% correct about everything. I’m doing this because “reading my notes” might help you wrestle freely with your own questions and blind spots.
You could say this is my thankfulness afterthought for both the healing and the delivering.
Because remember, thankfulness is best when we do it.
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