I was feeling under the weather, looking forward to a restful day of lying around, catching up on laundry, running the Roomba, and doing some hand sewing, and when I saw my very favorite comfiest jeans hanging in the closet ready to put on, I felt absurdly pleased. But what’s so absurd about it? Why should small material pleasures be counted less worthy of celebration than bigger or more spiritual boons? Contentment is not an artificial state or something I’m somehow getting away with. Surely I would not feel as much satisfaction as I do over a cup of Darjeeling tea or the fact that I have an ample supply of hand cream if God had not intended these good things as blessings.
I’m a little slow in general to express gratitude to God. I want to wait and see if the apparent blessing will turn out to be such a good thing after all. Is it part of a trend or just a fluke? Will some ironic twist in the future change its complexion entirely and leave me looking like an idiot? I don’t like looking like an idiot. I speak from experience. I know how it feels to be open and tender toward some person or situation and suddenly get punched in the metaphorical solar plexus, to go instantly from happy and grateful and blessed to doubled over with sick pain. Things were not what they appeared. People weren’t honest, or didn’t make good on their promises. And a very real part of the pain is self-reproach. How could I have been so stupid? How could I have actually rejoiced in this thing?
But if I withhold gratitude until I know for absolute certain how the thread will unwind, I will never be grateful in this life at all. If I express gratitude ever, I must do so from a perspective limited by time, space, and comprehension.
Almost any beautiful thing in this life can be wrecked or lost, but that doesn’t cancel its prior existence. People will lie and fail, but they will also learn and grow and do beautiful things. Withholding gratitude betrays a stinginess of spirit, a fearful distrust of God’s character, a suspicion that his gifts will turn to scorpions in my hand. This should not be.
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
1 Thessalonians 5:18
This is an amazing statement, a startlingly simple declaration regarding something that from my perspective isn’t simple at all. The will of God! How exactly will it play out in my life and the lives of those around me? Am I missing some opportunity or connection at this very moment through pride or stubbornness or lack of vision or unbelief? To what degree is it even possible for a believer to “miss” some portion of God’s will? If we do miss it, does that mean God’s will has been thwarted by human agency? That doesn’t sound very comforting. Then again, if it’s impossible to thwart God’s will, if everything that happens ultimately is in accordance with his inevitable and inexorable plan, then what’s the point of even pretending that our contributions are meaningful? We would be reduced to puppets who don’t even know they’re puppets, who think they’re acting out of their own impulse or reason or laziness or loyalty or passion or whatever but are really only playing parts in a script preprogrammed into their very being. Any praise or condemnation they might receive would be divorced from personal merit or culpability. In fact, personal merit and culpability could not even exist. That’s not merely comfortless but terrifying. Moreover, I do not believe it. I do not believe that God holds us accountable for things that are not only foreknown but also entirely predetermined. But then, if our contributions are meaningful, what is the believer’s part in determining and taking hold of this mysterious will of God? The Scripture makes it plain that God doesn’t expect us to be passive, but only time will truly tell, and those who make the most noise about particular course of action being most definitely God’s will often fail spectacularly, spreading confusion and discouragement among God’s people.
To further complicate the matter, many of our choices have no clear right or wrong about them, at least morally. It is not merely a matter of doing the “right” thing (as if that were easy); we must sift and discern through options which have conflicting moral claims or contain no intrinsic moral content at all. In such a case the “wrong” choice would be an error in judgment rather than a moral failure. But errors in judgment can have serious and far-reaching consequences.
Am I overthinking? You could say that, though I must add that I wouldn’t overthink if I didn’t underknow. Still, this is the tension in which God has placed my existence. He wants me to function with an understanding which to me feels woefully incomplete. If I knew all, there would be no scope for faith.
And this directive, at least, is beautifully simple and clear. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. No further explanation is needed. In this thing, at least, I can act with confidence. I can give thanks in every thing and know that I am doing God’s will.
To do this I must be very much in the moment. I must be glad in the blessing itself without wondering how long it will last or asking what is to be the pill in all this jam. It’s mostly all frail and temporal anyway, a shadow of blessings to come. There’s no point in trying to hold on. The present moment is all I really have.
So. I am thankful now that my headache has mostly abated, though it may well take a turn for the worse before bedtime. I am thankful for the cat and the Chihuahua curled up on either side of me, though their lifespans are absurdly short compared to mine. I’m thankful for the people I love, with all their moods and shortcomings and unpredictability; they certainly have plenty of the same to put up with from me, and I’m thankful that they do so. I’m thankful for their generosity, their intellect, their humor, and their love. I’m thankful for life, salvation, my aqua hoodie, hot and cold running water, LOTR, the Roomba, and mangoes.
God is good. I know this. The rest can wait.