As you begin reading this, I’d like for you to think of something you’re grateful for. Just a word or two, something that you’re grateful for. I’ll come back to that in a little bit.
Most of you know that I’m in the trenches of motherhood that many know can be very draining. Little people can be very demanding, very needy, very emotional, very irrational little people. Tiny tyrants attempting to rule the house with their miniature iron fists. As we battle for control each day, one of the things that I’m always drilling into my kids while they are still young is “Say thank you.” I want them to grow up not as entitled, spoiled, grown up tyrants, but as people who realize they are blessed every day.
Here is a lesson in saying thank you that really hit home with me.
My children go to two different schools, so every morning we have the hustle and bustle of getting everyone out the door on time. Some mornings you would think Mary Poppins is directing traffic in my house as everyone does everything they’re supposed to do, in a timely fashion, with a happy face. I almost catch myself whistling “A Spoonful of Sugar!”
But other days, my journey through the morning feels more like the highway to you know where! Everyone’s crying. Everyone’s yelling. No one can find their shoes, or their mittens, or their glasses. I’m more like a drill sergeant throwing children out the door and into van.
One particular day not too long ago, this was the tune of our morning. We were all yelling, crying, the kids were fighting, running late, of course. Not my favorite type of morning. And I hate to drop my kids off at school when everyone is mad at everyone! That’s the worst. So this particular morning, as everyone was bundled in the van, Sophie was crying and throwing a fit, Micah was complaining and whining, the baby was just making noise to be part of the chaos. And I thought, how do I flip this? How do I help these babies get through this yucky morning and have a good day?
Gratitude. That was the answer.
So I (loudly) asked everyone “What’s something you’re thankful for today?” I had to ask it more than once to be heard over the mayhem. But soon the answers started coming: a warm van to get to school, the beautiful snow, my friends at school, my mom, twinkle twinkle little star (from Hannie, of course). Soon we were on a roll, and everyone was feeling SO MUCH BETTER. We turned those thankful moments into our prayer time for the day before we dropped my son off to school.
Gratitude makes all the difference, doesn’t it?
One of my favorite Scriptures is I Thessalonians 5:16-18. It’s probably well known to many of you. It reads: “Rejoice always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I have a background as an English teacher, so whenever I approach words, I do that with my English teacher brain on. Can’t do it any other way! But what I first notice about this Scripture is that it’s a command. It’s written in the indicative tense, which means the subject of the action is “you” understood. In other words, you could read “YOU rejoice” “YOU pray continually” “YOU give thanks in all circumstances.” The “you” isn’t written there, but it’s understood that the sentence is talking to you. It’s commanded of “you” to do this. It’s not a suggestion. It’s not a feeling. It’s a command.
The next aspect of this short Scripture that I notice is the adverbs. These are the words that describe the action of the sentence. We have “always” “continually” and “in all circumstances.” These words further show us that the action commanded is not something we do just when we feel like it, or when it’s convenient. These are things we should do all the time. Always. Continually. In all circumstances.
Yet on mornings like the one I described to you earlier, rejoicing and giving thanks were the furthest things from my kids’ minds. As an adult, it wasn’t all that difficult for me to draw them out of that little funk with a time of thanksgiving. It really did turn our whole morning around, mine included. But that’s just a difficult morning.
What about when the really hard days come? When you lose your job, or your spouse loses their job. When someone you love gets a difficult diagnosis. When your spouse leaves you. When a friend dies. When a child falls into addiction. When you lose everything. There are many moments in life that it is very, very difficult to give thanks.
I’ve had many moments like this in my life. Moments, seasons really, where is it very difficult to be grateful. Most of you probably know that my daughter Sophie has autism. Her journey has been filled with difficulty from literally the moment of her birth. At times, that’s something that’s been very hard to say thank you for. I remember one morning in particular not that long ago, I was feeling sorry for myself about her autism diagnosis, and I felt that gentle nudge to give thanks. So I began to try and think of things I was thankful for because of autism. It’s still a little hard for me to say, “thank you for autism.” But I’m working towards that. But still there were so many things that I found to be thankful for.
There have been so many people that we’ve been privileged to interact with because of her diagnosis. We’ve received the help and support of so many different teams of people. The beauty in her overcoming so many obstacles is incomparable. That would be absent if it weren’t for her struggles. Our church family has come around us in such an amazing way to love and support our daughter and our whole family. Again, blessings that would be absent if our need had not be present.
And then there’s those little things that make Sophie Sophie. When I’m cleaning and I find all of her hatchimals shoved into a tiny baby sock that she was using to cart them around. Just those little things that make her her. She wouldn’t have some of those endearing habits if it wasn’t for autism. And even though the diagnosis is difficult to accept and be thankful for, I wouldn’t change Sophie for the world. I love her completely, every bit of her, with my whole heart. Would I remove some of her obstacles? Yes, in a heartbeat. But I also know the same God who controls all things in this giant cosmos for his purpose sees Sophie and controls her life in his good hands too.
So let’s call to mind what you thought of earlier when I asked you to choose something you’re grateful for. If I had to guess, or if I’d been in your seat, I would have probably written, my family, my husband, my job, my church, something like that. I doubt very much I would have written “autism.”
And yet, this is something that God has allowed in to my life. And gratitude, I believe, is the key to finding peace in those situations. Because gratitude restores my perspective. Instead of seeing God through the lens of my circumstances, I can see my circumstances through the lens of his love. I can remember that I believe in a God who is both totally good and totally sovereign. There’s nothing that happens to me that he hasn’t allowed. And there’s nothing in his nature of doing that, that isn’t good and kind. I have chosen to believe that no matter what is happening around me, my God is always kind. And so even when the difficult moments come, I can say “thank you.” It doesn’t erase the grief or the pain or the anger or the fear immediately, but it does restore peace, the peace that passes understanding which is promised in Philippians 4:6-7, another passage that reminds us to pray, to give thanks, and to trust.
So as you think back on that thing you chose to be grateful for, I want challenge you to add a second thing to be grateful for. You won’t feel grateful for it, but you can choose to be. You can choose to be grateful in all things because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. And I trust that as you choose to be grateful, the Holy Spirit will bring you peace, and your perspective of a good and loving God will be restored to guide you through the difficult road you may be walking.