Nestled among a long list of exhortations and blessings in 1 Thessalonians is a line we’ll see in plenty this month. Distressed on barn wood at your local craft store, printed on banners hung in the dining room, embossed on the ceramic plate the turkey is served on, and rife in sermons everywhere, “Give thanks in everything,” is the rally cry of November. But, like Aunt Jane’s consistently overcooked turkey, the truncated statement can also leave a dry taste in our mouths.
Gratitude will be on the rise for the next two months, followed by a sharp decline on January first when we resolve to change all the things our mere gratitude couldn’t change: love-handles, schedules, relationships, the project we’ve been putting off. There’s nothing like a full serving of gratitude to show us just how many things exist for which we’re still not thankful. We will give thanks for everything except all the things for which we’re still bent on changing.
I have a stack on my desk of books to read and review, menu-plans to make, a driver’s license to renew, and a book contract to fulfill within the first month of 2019. As grateful as I am for a job I love, the freedom to eat and cook whole, healthy food, and a license to drive, I’m decidedly unthankful for the work they all will require of me. I can trick myself into being grateful, topping my cake of grumbling with the frosting of thanksgiving, but it’s still a dismal cake beneath. I need the words with which Paul follows up his exhortation: “For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
For what is God’s will for me? This.
This everything. This messy desk, these deadlines, this schedule I can’t wrangle into submission, this monotonous line in which I’ll stand to get an unflattering photo of me laminated onto a card I’ll carry for the next eight years. All of this is God’s will for me. And not only this, that which I can see directly in front of me, but all that I can’t see either. The unfulfilled longings for children we’ve been unable to have, the suburbs in which we feel landlocked and stifled, the community of friends in which there are struggles to connect and experiences of conflict, the unrealized hopes and smothered dreams—these too are the will of God for me in Christ Jesus.
If we are only ever grateful for that which we enjoy or love or can see the eternal good in, we aren’t really thankful. We’re merely counting our blessings. True gratefulness means seeing and trusting and believing entirely that what comes our way is God’s good and best will for us. It means trusting—really trusting—that if we don’t have a thing we desire, we aren’t intended to have it today. It doesn’t mean we can’t still long for it, hope for it, and ask our Father for it (and we should), but it does mean the troubles we face today are sufficient for today. And the manna we’ve been given today is enough for the day.
This holiday season, I want to make a practice of thanking God for everything—even the really, really difficult things. Not because I’m a super-Christian, but because in Christ Jesus, and by the grace of God, everything right now is the will of God for me.