Although I have my strengths, being a thankful and generous person have not always been my strong suits. I have to work hard at and be intentional about these ethics. Despite what I preach, I have a natural inclination to be a tight wad and anxious mess. Maybe I am not alone. (See older post: Year of Gratitude)
This was evident on Friday in our local grocery store as we prepared for some guests for the afternoon. I guess you can say I struck a nerve with Amber...and rightfully so. The kids were at the helm of the cart, beeping the horn in one of those huge, nearly impossible-to-navigate shopping vehicles with a car in the front (pretty certain you need a separate class of license to operate these things), when I uttered audible sighs.
“What’s wrong?” Amber asked.
“Nothing.” I whispered under my breath, clearly begging for her to ask again.
“What!” she rolled her eyes, knowing full well what was wrong.
“Every time you put something in the cart, I see dollar signs and get anxious. I see bills.”
“Stop it! You need to be more grateful. We have enough. We have never not had enough. Start living and stop worrying.”
I didn’t listen very well. As we purchased food, cake, balloons, and simple treats to celebrate with someone close to us who had a hellish few months, I sighed again. Instead of joining Amber in finding ways to extend generosity, hospitality, and encouragement, all I could think of was myself and our finances.
She called me out, “Stop it! Be grateful. Give out of gratitude.”
My lack of gratitude planted the seeds of anxiety and harvested a hardened heart no longer able to elicit a spirit of generosity to those desperately needing it.
It got me thinking, why gratitude? Why are Christians to be willing people who regularly offer thanksgiving? I came up with four possibilites, certain there are more:
- When we are unwilling to be grateful, we become self-absorbed.
- When we are unwilling to give thanks, we become captive to fear, paralyzed by anxiety, and surrender power to stuff never intended to control us.
- When we neglect gratitude, we hesitate to extend generosity and give gifts of ordinary and radical grace to others and particularly those in need.
- When we forget to be thankful, we also forget to whom we belong and God’s concern for each of us. We ultimately surrender our allegiance and hope in God who is in the process of making all things new and right.
Although Roosevelt legislated Thanksgiving as a national holiday on December 26, 1941,* gratitude and the discipline of giving thanks have been staples of the Christian Way since the very beginning.
That's why I prefer the word Eucharist when referring to communion and the Lord’s Supper. It's a more frequent gathering and more faithful reminder of who we are and who we are called to be. Eucharist is the the grand collision of the Greek words for grace and gratitude, i.e. to give thanks. In other words, the sacrament is the real thanksgiving table. It’s what Paul was referring to when he wrote, “And be thankful….And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (3:17).
As disciples of Jesus, in everything we do we are to give thanks. We are Eucharistic people. We are thanksgiving people. We are people who gather around and are sent from the table of Jesus, where grace and gratitude dance.
"The only answer to χάρις (charis) is εύχαριστία (eucharistia)...χάρις always demands the answer of εύχαριστία. Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Grace evokes gratitude like the voice of an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning" (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV, p. 41).
When we are thankful, we surrender our propensity to be tight wads, crucify anxiety, and resurrect opportunities to freely give to and share with others.
We may even extend invitations to others, especially those not frequently mentioned on guest lists, to sit at table with us on Thanksgiving or whenever we gather around the sacrament of bread and cup.
Happy Thanksgiving. Blessed Eucharist.
*One needs only to do a little reading to discover the "first thanksgiving" leaves much to be desired in regards to what the day stands for centuries later. It can be said that the original feast was yet another example of Western, white colonization and injustice. If you want to spark intense debate as you pass the sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce, bring up what really took place on the first Turkey Day. While you're at it, figure out who eats that red stuff anyway.
**The videos above are taken from an incredible resource for theology, liturgy, and all things thoughtful Christianity: www.workofthepeople.com