The fire is crackling behind me and the rain has slowed to a drizzle as I’m finally settling down in the quiet house. We’re back out at the lake and I should be all kinds of grateful. And I was, yesterday. But today, tonight, I’m frustrated, discouraged and all around showing my sinful stripes as I pout and mutter about all the things I wish I had in my life and don’t.
Yeah, this coveting, this jealousy, this ungratefulness, it’s an ugly thing. And my word, is it an easy thing. An easy thing to have the world at your fingertips and be wondering why you can’t have just a little bit more.
An easy thing to be given so much in health, wealth, and love and yet somehow convince yourself that the grass over in your neighbor’s yard is just a little bit better, a little bit greener, a little bit more of what you’d like.
This thing of gratefulness doesn’t come easy. It doesn’t come naturally. Maybe I’m just a hard nut and slow at learning but the kindness, the giving, the joy, the compassion, the patience, they are anything but natural.
The warring, the pride, the selfishness, the ugliness, yeah, that feels about right. Fits like a glove, like an old skin I can never really shed.
No one ever says it’s human nature to be kind, sacrificial or gracious. Don’t we just shake our heads when we read the screeching headlines and mutter, what do you expect? It’s human nature. The things we all share in common that come quite easily, quite naturally to us human beings, like the taking, the comparison, the dissatisfaction, the killing of dreams and lives and the stealing away of innocence and property and everything between.
Today it has been a losing battle of living in the natural rather than putting on the holy. Of giving ground when I should have been gaining, letting that Deceiver run roughshod in my mind as he whispers all kinds of doubts and deceit. Letting him plant discontent when I should be reaping joy.
Here’s the secret he definitely doesn’t want us knowing: our strength comes from our joy. And if he can steal that, then he’s knocked the wind right out of us.
What are we as followers of the Cross without joy? Not that goofy slap-a-grin-on-your face fake that pretends everything is always fine all the time. Because honest truth is that it’s not fine a lot of the time for a lot of people. You sign up to follow Jesus and life doesn’t hand you a million dollar check. Or insulate your kids. Or give you the dream job with the keys to your picture-perfect home.
You might pick up your Cross to follow that Carpenter and find yourself walking through deserts and valleys and raging storms and straight into the heart of hell. You might end up burying your babies, running for your life, losing your job or watching everything you work for slip through your fingers.
There’s got to somehow be joy in the midst of it or what are we doing and what’s the point and why even sign up?
Joy, it’s not based on circumstances, or experience that happens to us. It’s a choice, a daily fighting within even when, or maybe especially when, your reality would seem like rock hard ground where even a weed couldn’t grow. I’ve sat in dirt-floored huts and talked with people who call the city garbage dump home and their joy is palpable.
And I’ve got friends who keep getting everything they ask for here in the West and they’re still frustrated, still searching, still feeling like it’s not enough. Yeah, they claim to have Jesus but they’re living like that’s not enough. Honest truth, most days I’m guilty of the same.
The difference? One is thanking God for the abundance, even in the midst of what the world calls poverty, while the other is drying up from a heart that can’t fully say thanks.
That Farmer’s Wife up in Canada, she wrote a whole book about counting the gifts in the day and she points out that nestled in the word “eucharisteo,” thanksgiving, is the Greek word “chara”, which means “joy.”
If thanksgiving and joy are interwoven, and that Gospel Book promises that joy is my strength, are we strongest when we’re most grateful?
Grateful for what we’ve been given, not just in people, experiences and circumstances, but in Jesus. Grateful for how the Cross changes everything because it now stands as a defiant reminder that the unraveling of all things towards death is not the final word.
What used to mean shame now means hope.
It’s not just eternity and a different ending to the story that is the gift. It’s today, the next breath, the next moment which none of us can earn or will to happen. It just is. A gift given, even if it’s never acknowledged.
But what if we looked for the gifts, letting the day surprise us with the wonder found in the ordinary? What if we started giving thanks in all things? Maybe especially in the things that seem to determined to keep us pinned to the mat?
I’m slow to learn this lesson of gratefulness and it’s first nature in me to complain so no wonder I’m feeling worn out and beat down tonight.
The fire is dying down but there’s still time to put pen to paper and number the gifts of the day. To reap a harvest of joy and find the strength I need to do battle again tomorrow.