Thanks on all days
Today, or sometime this week, many of us will pause to observe Thanksgiving. We will reflect on the blessings we can count in our lives. We will take a break from the humdrum patterns of daily life and from the persistent intrusions of bad news into our consciousness. The bustle of the holiday and the dynamics of encounters we don’t have every day may bring their own stresses, to be sure, but even amidst those we will take time to give thanks.
Our thanks may come from looking back on the year past. It may consist of taking stock of the friends and family and colleagues who enrich and bless our lives. It may be stimulated and embodied in giving from our abundance to support those in need. It may arise as we think about opportunities that lie just ahead. We may give thanks for the challenges that bring out the best in us. We do not all feel gratitude for the same things, but on this holiday we are accustomed to identifying what uplifts us and to give thanks for it.
Amanda Logan, a nurse practitioner in Janesville MN, notes in the Mayo Clinic’s online Speaking of Health that there are “a host of mental and physical benefits” that are associated with expressing thanks. It can “improve sleep, mood, and immunity” and “decrease depression, anxiety, difficulties with chronic pain, and risk of disease.” As Logan notes, “if a pill could do this, everyone would be taking it.”
Indeed, most of us do take it on this holiday. But why stop there? Logan notes that “our lives are full of reasons to feel thankful. Sometimes we need to remember to notice them.” Noticing is what Thanksgiving helps us to do, and other things can help at other times.
The apostle Paul wrote almost 2,000 years ago to a congregation in the city of Thessaloniki in Macedonia. The people there were anxious about the end of the world, about the fate of those who had recently died, and about the persecution they knew Paul was experiencing. Responding to their fears, Paul encouraged them to “rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:16-18). Later, writing to the Philippians, he was again explicit about noticing reasons for gratitude just as one is asking for strength and help: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God (Phili. 4:6).
Paul’s counsel to these communities was grounded in his familiarity with the psalms of Israel, with which he had grown up. Over and over again, in every circumstance, the writers of the psalms declared their thankfulness and urged their communities to thankfulness in song, prayer, sacrifice, and praise. (We might note, parenthetically, that shopping on “Black Friday” is not part of the formula, though the psalms and Paul would certainly encourage us to be thankful in that circumstance, as well.) The focus sharpens in Psalms 100: “Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and the heavenly courts with praise” (v. 4).
That offers us the kind of focus we can also use to ensure that we remember to notice the opportunities our lives give us for thanksgiving. Every week we can “enter the gates of God” to be reminded. Seeing the faces of others greeting us and praising God, lifting our voices in songs of thanksgiving, renewing friendships, extending comfort and receiving encouragement, hearing the gospel word, tasting the Lord’s Supper, bringing our requests to God in prayer – every week these are the patterns of a congregation as we gather. They are patterns of health and well-being, regularly renewed. Even for that opportunity, so faithfully offered to one another, we can give thanks!