The house is dark and amazingly hushed--the kids, the husband, the dog all fast asleep. I know it will not last long, as Joey has an uncanny ability to wake fifteen minutes after I do, no matter how early I may set my alarm. Izzy has inherited the gift of sleep from her father, but Joey, despite being in her own room for over a year, is still somehow tied to my own circadian rhythms. I've googled this to see if it's actually a thing or some bizarre, repeating coincidence, but, alas, the google ether yields no answers. I mention all of this to say there isn't a lot of time to write these days. There isn't a lot of time to do anything other than make breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, to vacuum and clean the floors, to wipe bottoms and shod fat little feet with fat little shoes, to find the best and cheapest and closest grocery store, to search for a church, to search for a doctor, to search for a playground, to search for friends. Our relocation and a school-free summer have meant a lot of quality time with the kids, which is a blessing and opportunity when my mind and heart are rightly oriented, and a struggle when they are not. Being more toward the introvert end of the spectrum, constant time with people, even my own children, leaves me drained and longing for a few blessed moments alone, with myself, yes, but mostly longing for time alone with my God.
I know I am late to these two bandwagons, but I've been (slowly) simultaneously reading J.I. Packer's Knowing God and Ann Voskamp's A Thousand Gifts. Despite numerous recommendations from trusted friends and family, I had been especially reluctant to read the latter, because, well, it just sounded so Christian cliche and obnoxious. Another book about being thankful-- yea, yea (eye roll). But, as with a lot of things, it turns out I was completely wrong. It's a truly lovely, thoughtful, and convicting read and just what I needed during this season of our lives.
Like so many foundational truths, the importance, rightness, and holiness of gratitude are easy to gloss over. It's far more natural and comfortable to vaguely acknowledge that I am indeed fortunate but then go about my grumbling, dissatisfied day, never actually changing or living out of that gratitude, than it is to cultivate a constant, sustaining sense of thankfulness for this life the Lord has given me and all that He has done for me, thankfulness for who He is and the staggering truth that I am His and He is mine, appreciation for the thousands of ways that the Lord demonstrates His love for us, for me, and for His creation every moment.
I've been especially confronted by this tendency due to my eldest daughter's current proclivity for whining and complaining, even in the midst of doing what most people would objectively consider to be a very, very fun activity. She could be on a giant trampoline mid flip and still wish she were somewhere else doing something supposedly better--a waterslide in outer space, perhaps, or riding on the back of a flying dinosaur, maybe? It drives me nuts. Even though I know she's only four and barely understands half of what she says, her ingratitude drives me insane. Her requests for more and better and different make me want to lock her in her room for all eternity. Nothing is ever enough. You see where I'm going with this. Yes, cue the removal of the log from my own eye. I am absolutely guilty of the same sin, and on a much more disturbing and culpable level, as I know Christ and have full possession of my adult, reasoning faculties.
In Knowing God, Packer writes,
The question is not whether we are good at theology, or "balanced" (horrible, self-conscious word!) in our approach to problems of Christian living. The question is, can we say, simply, honestly, not because we feel that as evangelicals we ought to, but because it is a plain matter of fact, that we have known God, and that because we have known God the unpleasantness we have had, or the pleasantness we have not had, through being Christians does not matter to us? If we really knew God, this is what we would be saying, and if we are not saying it, that is a sign that we need to face ourselves more sharply with the difference between knowing God and merely knowing about him. (p 27)
Yea, ahem. Big, fat mirror held up to my face. The unpleasantness I have had, do have, and will have still matters far too much to me. If I'm honest, sometimes I like to roll around in it and just wallow in self-pity. Occasionally, I try to get other people to join me and agree that the unpleasantness is so unfair and painful and hard, to make sad, compassionate faces and offer their sympathy. This happens when I turn my gaze from my Lord to myself and do not obey His command to do everything without grumbling, to think about whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise (Phil 2:14, 4:8), when I let my own flesh run the show and do what it likes to do, i.e. live for itself and not for Jesus. But this practice of thankfulness is an antidote, I think, to the poison of self-pity and self-focus and a scriptural means of knowing the Lord better and apprehending Him more completely.
The right response to true, clear vision of Jesus is gratitude and devotion. The clearer I see Him, the less I see myself, and the more beautiful and praiseworthy He becomes. "So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord--who is the Spirit--makes us more like him as we are changed into his glorious image" (NLT, 2 Cor 3:18). The more I gaze upon Him and let the sight of Him conform me to His likeness by the working of His Holy Spirit, the more everything that was loss or gain in my life truly becomes rubbish compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (Phil 3:8).
Ann Voskamp says it like this,
We only enter into the full life if our faith gives thanks. Because how else do we accept His free gift of salvation if not with thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives. Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our Yes! to His grace. Thanksgiving is inherent to a true salvation experience; thanksgiving is necessary to live the well, whole, fullest life.
I see in myself the tendency to view this stance of gratitude as optional, as nice but sort of unrealistic and Pollyanna-ish, and so I don't give it the attention, energy, prayer and meditation it warrants. But my bad attitude is worldly and stands in total opposition to what Jesus taught, to the Spirit-filled and led life, to the abundant life that bears much fruit and glorifies God. I think Ann is right; thanksgiving is inherent to a true salvation experience and necessary for the sanctified and joyful life Christ intends for us.
Packer notes that when Paul writes that he counts all things a loss, the apostle doesn't only mean that he no longer values those things he once held in high regard. He means that "he does not live with them constantly in his mind: what normal person spends his time nostalgically dreaming of manure? Yet this, in effect, is what many of us do. It shows how little we have in the way of true knowledge of God." Manure gazing. It's all garbage compared to what I gain in Christ and the joy of living with and for him, so stop thinking about it! Yep. That sums it up pretty well. Eyes off the trash pile--the disappointments, betrayals, hurts, sicknesses, the selfish ambition and desires, the approval of men, the success and high standing once held--and eyes onto Jesus, "the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame," (Heb 12:2).
I do want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, which means fellowshipping in His sufferings and being conformed to His death (Phil 3:10). And it also means offering up thanks and living out of awe and perpetual gratefulness for what He has done, who He is, and who I am in Him.