Everyone agrees that thankfulness is a banner of victorious living. We elevate gratitude to a cardinal virtue, especially at this time of year, our voices rising in song: “Give thanks with a grateful heart!” and “Come, ye thankful people come!”
If we count our blessings instead of sheep (kudos, Irving Berlin), most of us begin with obvious gifts: food, shelter, loved ones. It’s like stepping up Maslow’s ladder of need, relishing the view from each rung. We may even do so with a prayerful awareness that these basic needs are lacking in the lives of others. A colleague of mine, Rev. Traci Smith, calls this Gratitude 101.
I, too, am thankful for this surface abundance in my life. Yet, on this Thanksgiving 2017, I am grateful for treasures born of deeper struggles.
I love this quote from Anthon St. Maarten (an unlikely reference). “If we never experience the chill of a dark winter, it is very unlikely that we will ever cherish the warmth of a bright summer’s day. Nothing stimulates our appetite for the simple joys of life more than the starvation caused by sadness or desperation. In order to complete our amazing life journey successfully, it is vital that we turn each and every dark tear into a pearl of wisdom, and find the blessing in every curse.”
Today, I hold two of these pearls—these blessings—in my hands. Jesus would call them pearls of great price.
One represents my recovery from alcoholism. Early on, as I attended meetings and absorbed the wisdom of others, I heard a phrase that startled me: “My name is ________, and I’m a grateful alcoholic.” What?! You’re grateful for a disease that causes blackouts, ravaged relationships, poisoned bodies, the suffering of incarceration and rehab? How could those two words—grateful and alcoholic—be spoken in the same breath? Now I know. The Twelve Steps brought me to my knees, offered rebirth through surrender, and today I am eternally grateful for a path that leads to serenity.
The other symbolizes my journey in parenting a special needs son. It requires herculean doses of patience, a quality that was never my forte. But today I am abundantly grateful, not only for this daily character shaping, but for the privilege to see life through Kristoffer’s eyes, to affirm forever the dignity and worth of every human being in the Kingdom of God.
Last month, I shared a classic of Christian literature at a men’s breakfast: Corrie Ten Boom’s story of the fleas in Barracks 8 at Ravensbruck, a Nazi concentration camp for women. Corrie and her sister, Betsy, were imprisoned for harboring Jews. Betsy taught her sister to be thankful even for the fleas that infested their cramped and filthy quarters. Why? You can read the story and its stinger ending here.
What I didn’t share with those men, but do so now, are some of Betsy’s final words before she died in that squalid prison. They shout to me across the decades.
“We must tell people what we have learned here. We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still. They will listen to us, Corrie, because we have been here.”
I ask you a question, my friends. When you count your blessings, are there some that would cause people to say “You’re thankful for THAT?”
I hope so.