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Be Thankful

“And be thankful,” says Paul in his letter to the Colossians (3:15). The directive comes in a list of commands near the end of a letter full of wonderful theology and ethics. Every time I read it, however, the wording of the text bothers me. It’s simple and plain. It does not ask how I feel or whether I am bolstered by happiness and joy and blessing. It simply asserts “Be thankful.” In this world? Now?

Do you want the list of horrors from just today? You already have your own, I’m sure. The problems are not hidden away but scream at us from the headlines: war, political turmoil, violence, the suffering of innocents, environmental degradation, and economic discord. Then there are all of the personal issues, like relationship strife, family problems, and health complications, both physical and mental. My list is extensive, with names and addresses. Yours? Yes, I thought so. It can be overwhelming.

Sitting there directly in front of us is the HOLIDAY SEASON, a time of unrelenting and forced happiness. Just sit there and enjoy it! What are you trying to do, ruin the season for everyone? Be thankful! But the problems persist. In three decades of being a pastor I have found that the time of year from Thanksgiving to Christmas is the most dishonest period of all. Yes, I said it. Dishonest. We paint smiles on our faces and pretend we are happy, but it’s all an act.

And yet, I wonder. Some years ago in my first church I became aware that, when we came to the time of the pastoral prayer in worship, we always had a vast list of concerns. Rarely, however, did anyone ever mention anything good. This had been true in all of the churches in my childhood. It was expected. So, I started asking a simple question: What are you thankful for? I think this is Paul’s point in Colossians: Gratitude and thanksgiving arise not out of mere feeling, but are clear-eyed assertions of much deeper truth, often despite the circumstances of our lives.

In every worship service I verbalize concerns, but people also know I am going to ask, “What are you thankful for?” I ask because it matters, genuinely matters, that we name aloud our deepest concerns as well as the truth of our thanksgiving. What we feel is fleeting and ephemeral. Gratitude and thanksgiving are much deeper than that, maybe the deepest things of all.

On a recent trip to the high and holy place of Athens, Georgia I had a religious experience. I dined on chili dogs, onion rings and a big orange at The Varsity drive-in, newly opened in Bethlehem, Georgia. For those that remember, no, it was not like eating downtown across from The Arch or up the street on Broad and Milledge. But, wow, it was good. And the memories! Of parents and grandparents, children and friends, all gathered around for a feast improved only by the cayenne pepper added to the delectables, just like my father did it. And I was thankful.

It matters. Be thankful. So, what are you thankful for?

Peace … Chris