By Elaine Knudtson
“16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thess.5)
As a young girl I watched Walt Disney’s “Wonderful World of Color” on Sunday evenings. A three- part movie, “Pollyanna”, about a young orphan who transforms a town with her constant and excessive optimism seemed like a magic formula for happiness. It was based on a character created by Eleanor Porter in 1913 (before the century of world wars). It was easy to find the good in happy events; much more challenging to see anything good when I was angry or misunderstood. The term “Pollyanna” is now used derisively of those who are unrealistic and inauthentic.
In 1976 I read Merlin Carother’s book Prison to Praise. I was intrigued by the challenge to change my focus from suffering, hardship and failure to thanksgiving. It was a concept that was prevalent in the early 1970s, along with clichés such as “Smile, God loves you”, “When God closes a door, God opens a window”, and “Let go and let God.” The premise was that we needed to give God thanks in all situations because He was allowing circumstances to happen so that we would trust in His providence.
I no longer subscribe to these self-help techniques as I have seen that some troubles are a result of my own choices, others are natural occurrences in a physical realm, and still others are part of living in a broken and fallen world. However, the conscious decision to focus on gratitude continues to be integral to my spiritual and mental health.
We seem naturally drawn to problems. Some are “doers” and look for the way out; others are “feelers” paralyzed by fears. Either way, the focus is on our response. It can so easily quench the spark of gratitude and replace it with the scars of cynicism and doubt. When it becomes a habit, life seems joyless. Often people will diagnosis their malaise as being stressed or tired, but often, at the heart of it is a lack of thankfulness.
We met with all our grandchildren this summer for four days in southern California. No sooner had we walked into the door of our Airbnb before I heard complaints about the condition of the house, the lack of bathrooms, and a jocking for the “best” bedroom in the house. Here we were on the family vacation of a lifetime, and they were complaining. At the supper table, before any of them could eat, I asked them to stop for a moment and ponder, “What are you thankful for?” The whole attitude around the table changed, including my own, and we enjoyed our meal together.
They all commented on being thankful for family, vacations, “the whole world”, Jesus, and the food on our table. Amazing how an appreciation of the simple blessings silences the anxiety and negativity.
It is Thanksgiving today in Canada. I am reminded of the expression “Carpe Diem”—seize the day. It goes along with the Jewish toast: “l’chaim” – to life.
“Today is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Ps. 118:24)
Lord, I give you thanks for those special moments:
- The vista from the top of the mountain after a long climb
- The crashing of the waves on the edge of the shore
- The beautiful explosion of colors as seasons change
- The golden light piercing the cloud after the storm
- The cacophony of creation’s voices in the forest at the setting of the sun
- The giggle of children playing before bedtime
- The hug after an argument
- The “I forgive” eternally offered for my ungratefulness