Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Spiritual Practice of Giving Thanks

When you think about it, saying "Thank you," is one of the first manners we encourage small children to adopt. This simple practice of remembering to thank the people around us is so basic to positive human interactions that, when absent, it is a glaring rudeness that paints the withholding party as arrogant.

Somewhere along the line, then, we've learned that gratitude for services rendered or a job well done is an appropriate and meaningful human to human response in life.

But what about thankfulness as a spiritual practice and a way of life?

In Psalm 50, the poet is speaking for God when he says--

"I don't need bulls from your farms or goats from your herds.
All the animals in the forest are mine and the cattle on thousands of hills. All the wild birds are mine and all living things
in the land... Let the GIVING OF THANKS be your sacrifice to God..."

Thanksgiving as a sacrifice... What a thought.

But actually, as I pondered it, I realized there have been plenty of times in my life when the spiritual practice of giving thanks functioned as a sacrifice. Let's consider being evacuated from home when bandits were too close, too bold and too many. Then there were days of trauma when a teammate was sexually assaulted and our team gathered in guest houses in the capital to work through how to deal with the issue over the vast cultural divides between U.S. nationals, Kenyan officials and Maasai elders. Those were crummy times and I won't bore any of us with a litany of more of the same.

On those nights, as we huddled in safe places away from home, I found that I could only muster wee prayers that said things like, "Thank you for this pillow tonight."

And feeble as it was, my thanksgiving was a sacrifice and, as such, it pleased the heart of God.

Some days, thanks is a discipline that doesn't feel like one. It's an overflow of gratitude that wells up naturally. Other days it's a rendering, a beating down of the grief or struggle to bring out what is good. And there's something about the costliness of the practice on those days that makes it, for lack of a better word, sweet.

But, whether it be an overflow of easy thanks, or a wrestling to not go under, giving thanks is always a blessing.

I'm pretty certain every country should set aside a day to practice it :-)


Carolyn said...

Dear Lisa:
I have found this to be the best way to cope with so many situations that have seemed "less than adequate" to me, as well as living in a place that is not comfortable for me, and with many things happening that are outside of my control or influence. It's amazing what can happen in your soul when you start giving thanks for even little things, in the midst of horrible, or even just crummy situations. It's really the best antidepressant I know. And, it can teach you that circumstances are just that; they aren't all there is, and God is still present, in the midst of it, and is able to help in our time of need.


roygoble said...

Amen, Lisa, Amen. Our world we be a better place if we really practiced thankfulness while digging deeper into forgiveness.

JB said...

i like it mama! you write so beautifully and i love it. you are a wise and beautiful mum who i miss dearly!
see you in a week.