Thursday, September 6, 2012

Thankfulness: joy in the immediate and invested

Declaration 3:  The new creation that I am delights in her life in the present moment;

counting all of it as joy, whether immediate or invested. 

She is thankful for the totality of her life, and will delight in the treasures hidden therein.

Do not mistake me: there are times when joy is the furthest thing from the place I inhabit.  Or so it seems.   We’ve just concluded a series about elusive joy; the kind of joy that is solely the acknowledgment that God is sovereign.  There are seasons when this type of joy is the only rational response; when the present is so painful, so fraught with uncertainty, that all we want is for this season to end.  For resolution to come; for respite from our suffering.     

How will I feed the kids tomorrow?  Will they foreclose on the house?  What if he always chooses the internet over me?  Will the new cancer treatments work this time?  Will I ever see my son again?  What if tonight the phone rings, telling me that the tracks on my daughter’s arms finally took her life?

Conversely, it is easy to become lost in the day-to-day.  The mundane has such compelling power to pull one deep into mindless habit and joyless existence.  So that we seek to escape; we look for distraction from our lives, diversion from the space between the rising and setting sun.      

Make the bed, feed them breakfast, wash the dishes, rush off to school, do the laundry, buy the groceries, pick them up, make them dinner, get the homework is done, wash the dishes, mandate baths, get them into bed

Put on the tie, drive the same road, sit in the cubicle, listen to the same conversations, look at the same images, submit the same reports, drive home, mow the grass, take out the trash, go to bed

Just to do it over again the next day. 

How does one count it all as joy?  How do I find treasures hidden in my days, particularly when my days are monotonous or painful?

Cultivate a spirit of thankfulness (a la Ann Voskamp*). 

Now, I need you to know that I have spent years dedicated to one task alone: being the consummate perfect-joyful-Christian-woman.  The kind who rejoices over her laundry because it means her house is filled with family; or who prays over her dishes as she’s washing them because it means there was food to eat that day.  But I am not her anymore.  Because she wasn’t real in the first place.  Her thankfulness; this repetitive, resigned varietal formed in obligation and marinated in duty is not the kind of thankfulness of which I speak.**  For me, it was forced.  And fake.  It made me feel all kinds of inadequacy and guilt; because, in all honesty, I hate doing the dishes.  Plunging my hand into a sink full of dirty, food from someone else’s plate makes me gag.  Literally.  Laundry, cooking, cleaning all are activities for which I have no bent or desire.  And that’s okay.
No, the thankfulness to which I refer is one borne from a realization of whom I worship: the Almighty and Everlasting God.  And who I am: a sinner, in desperate need of saving.  Every day.  This truth  allows me to see the mundane as gifts, to find joy in the times of trial; to be genuinely grateful for every breath.  This thankfulness does not require that I enjoy every task before me; but allows me to rest in the knowledge that the God who spoke the universe into existence knows me.  Knows that I love the slivers of aspens with their twirling leaving dancing on autumnal winds and that they make me feel freedom in my chest and that I’d rather be out among them than cooped up inside up to my elbows in dish water.  Knows that words and music and touch are the ways in which my soul is revived from this dark and fallen world.  Knows my propensity for rebelling, for wandering, and loves me anyway. 

This kind of thankfulness allows me to be honest: if today sucks, I can say so.  But I can end like the psalmist, trusting in God’s sovereignty over the crappy times.  I can freely thank God for the mundane days, without treating him as the distant relative who really doesn’t know what I like, thus sends me gifts ill-fitting my person and personality; but for which I must be grateful anyway. It allows me to say, on the days of repetition, that God is enough; and His presence in my life is the greatest gift.  And when the days are good, I can rejoice with a pure heart; praising the God from which they came and for the delight they ignite in me.

 Know that some seasons are investments towards future joy. 
The hard times usually are for strengthening us.  For drawing me nearer to the throne of grace and the foot of the cross than I would have come in times of plenty.  When the tears I spill on brittle ground do not even hint at a coming harvest; and the waiting draws the strength from my veins until I cannot remember what life feels like anymore; so long as I stay mindful of whom I worship, and who I am, I can count every moment as an investment in a greater joy to come.      

And some are for immediate reaping.
When joy is all around you.  When you can feel it in your breath and catch hold of it in your bones.  When the sun delights upon your face; and snow rains love upon your head.  When you want to do nothing but dance and sing and hold perfectly still to keep this moment for as long as you can, all at the same time.  When the light playing off her hair mines tears from my eyes; and his laughter rouses my own.  When the kisses come soft and slow, dizzyingly true with perfect intent.  When laughter is the soundtrack of my days; and their pace marked by the comings and goings of beloved members; then the joy in my heart should overwhelm me, so that thankfulness is instinctual. 


I will find joy in every day, by finding God. 

I will be thankful for the moments which comprise my life,

for I have but the one. 

Knowing that if I seek first the Lord,

my life will be filled with the things in which my heart delights.




* Though as I read her blog today, I see she and I do not share the same view on monotony.  But that’s okay.  God made some wild and some meant to be domesticated; some delight in routine and take their rest in familiar practices.  Both are beautiful.

** By all means, if this practice will cultivate a thankful heart in you, do it!  And even if it doesn’t, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to be thankful for these things every once in a while, to attune one’s attention to how good we really do have it.  To find God’s handiwork even in the quiet and predictable moments. 

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