All Circumstances?

Give thanks in all circumstances. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Yesterday was a good day. The sun was out. Golden leaves formed a magic carpet across Boyle Park. A lone bird serenaded me as I walked Angel around the park. She had a hop to her step, and I nearly skipped. The weather was Colorado perfect, not too cold, not too hot. Gratitude filled me from head to toe and I gave thanks for being alive.

Today is more bah humbug. The sun is out. Golden leaves form a magic carpet across Boyle Park. Another bird sings as I walk Angel around the park. It’s hard to walk today. The weather is Colorado perfect, not too cold, not too hot. Out of obligation I say thank you for this day, but I don’t really mean it.

“Sometimes I’m up, Sometimes I’m down.” I can’t really predict the ups and downs. They just happen.

Paul says, “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). How is that possible? I checked the scripture passage for a footnote but there was none. “Give thanks in all circumstances.” This must be a faulty translation, so I pulled Eugene Peterson’s The Message off the shelf and turned to 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 which says, “Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.” That doesn’t help my questions.

Brian McLaren writes, “The words ‘in all circumstances’ should not be confused with ‘for all circumstances.’” Can we find hidden blessings, a silver lining in all circumstances? Is Grace present equally on sunny and cloudy days?

My mom was fanatical about giving thanks. When I was a kid on Christmas morning opening presents, she would say to me and my sister, “Be sure to write your thank yous.” I responded, “Mom, can I open the presents before I write a thank you?” “Just be sure to write thank yous. People appreciate it.”

In college she would call me after my birthday and say, “Craig, I know Grandma sent you a present. Did you thank her?” “I will Mom.” She would call me every night until I said I had written my thank yous.

When I moved to Mancos over twenty years ago, my mentor Reverend Lynn Evans told me once, “If you want a successful ministry write three thank yous a week.” I did it for three or four weeks, but then I stopped.

The great theologian Karl Barth wrote, “Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Gratitude follows grace like thunder lighting.”

McLaren says, “Even in pain, we can find a place of gratitude, a place where alongside the agony of loss we still count and appreciate what remains.” Can we still give thanks in times of sorrow, grief, or hardship for gifts we have received? Can we give thanks for the blessings in our lives regardless of circumstances?

I remember driving my mother to Mercy Hospital when she had severe heart pain. I think she knew the end was near. “Thank you for driving me. I did not want to ride in an ambulance.” “You’re welcome,” I said. We rode in silence as she clutched her heart.

“You know, I’ve had a good life. My family was not perfect, but they loved me. I had a wonderful childhood. I married your father, and he was so good to me. He put up with me even when I complained. I had two great kids. I never ever had a bad dog. They were all good friends.”

“Your best dog was always your present dog, Mom.” “Of course, Angel is the best dog I’ve ever had but they were all the best. We lived all over the country and I loved every place we lived even though I always wanted to move back to Kansas. I have no complaints. Life has been good to me.”

Mom’s life was not always a bed of roses. The moves we made around the country following my dad’s job were hard on her. The early death of her daughter, my sister, tore her apart. Mom grieved for years and slowly she started giving thanks for each day. She knew every breath we take is a gift. Each moment is a grace. She started giving thanks in all circumstances.

This Thanksgiving may we continue to practice gratitude. As McLaren writes, “For this breathe, thanks. For this tear, thanks. For this memory of something I used to enjoy but now have lost, thanks. For this ability not simply to rage over what has been taken, but to celebrate what was once given, thanks.” For wisdom and laughter shared, thank you. For community and good food, thank you. For the gift of hope, thank you. For love everlasting we give thanks to you God.

“Sometimes we’re up. Sometimes we’re down. Sometimes we’re almost to the ground. Glory Hallelujah” (from “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”). May we give thanks in all circumstances.

Blessings and peace,