Thanksgiving is not just a holiday; it’s an attitude that is (for some like me) maintained with considerable effort. In that struggle, I have come to realize that there are at least two irrefutable rules for having a perpetually thankful heart:
1) It’s easier to remember the difficult, the painful, and the disappointing than it is the blessings, the grace, and the miracles that come and go. That’s especially true when we’re face-to-face with difficulties.
2) Remembering how God has blessed us in the past provides a foundation to face future challenges. Yes, I know, we can technically just stand on “the promises” without any reference to our personal history. However, the life of David and the Psalms of David show how important it was for him have good recollection of how God had helped him in the past. It helps a lot in times of trouble.
When the Children of Israel finally entered the Promised Land, there was a second miraculous water crossing. It is less known than the first (when Moses parted the Red Sea), perhaps because no movie has been made about it. As they were carrying the Ark of the Covenant across the dry Jordan River bed, Joshua was instructed to build a monument to the event. God told him to have men pick large rocks from the riverbed and build a memorial beside the river where they emerged (Joshua 4:1-7). The purpose was to commemorate the event so that when their children and children’s children asked about those rocks, it would provide an opportunity to tell the story again.
The Children of Israel in the wilderness were rather quick to forget their miraculous deliverance from Egypt and the Red Sea crossing (Evidence of Irrefutable Rule #1). Losing that perspective, they complained about their circumstances, built a golden calf to worship, and longed to go back to Egypt.
My wife, Linda, was visiting her parents last weekend, and so I entertained myself with an old movie that I first saw many years ago. With Honors is about a bum living in the basement of Harvard’s Widener Library who befriends four Harvard students. It’s a great movie but a few objectionable parts make it not entirely appropriate for kids. The bum, who had lived a pretty hard life, had no possessions except for a pouch containing five little rocks. Each rock represented one of his few happy memories. Periodically, he would take them from his pocket and recall those happy times. The story ends with the four graduates leaving Harvard, each picking up their own little rock.
Linda and I wish we had collected more mementoes through the years, but we do have a few things lying around that always bring up great memories. Like the homemade award from the students at the summer leadership institute I once led; the porcelain duck from our trip to visit friends in Boulder, Colorado; my dad’s fly rod, etc. A maple tree stands in my front yard that I planted when Clara, one of our granddaughters, was born.
Most of us have more happy memories than we will ever retain. Others like the bum in the movie, by comparison, have very few. But whether many or few, each of us at some point in our lives will have to fall back on our own thanksgiving rocks to get through what is ahead of us (Irrefutable Rule #2).
THREE THANKFUL SUGGESTIONS
1. Make a personal record of God’s provision and protection. I like what Adam Mabry (pastor of Aletheia Church in Cambridge, MA) says about being thankful. “Even when it seems that nothing went right (in a church service or outreach), be diligent to find and celebrate even the smallest instances of grace.”
Over the years, I’ve tried to keep up the practice of scribbling in a journal — “old world blogging” you might call it. “Timelines” were not invented by Facebook, you know. Walking around in a cemetery thinking about my ancestors, telling old stories, and writing in a diary all seem to be inherited traits for my extended family. How those things come to be so deeply imbedded in our DNA would take way too long to explain. I’ll just say that generations of grandparents were careful to record and recount their blessings. That was particularly true of my great-great grandfather, John A. Taylor, who ended each year by recording his trials and blessings, the major events of his life, and his gratitude to God.
2. Recount God’s faithfulness in the past as a foundation of faith for the future. I began writing things down many years ago as an exercise of faith. As often as I could, I would simply list blessings — both large and small. Some time afterwards, I went through some very discouraging times. By chance, I began to skim through the “Thankful Book,” as it was then called. I was astounded by how many great things had happened (that I had somehow so easily forgotten!) and how consistently God’s grace had been manifested in my life. The most amazing part was how many instances of God’s provision and protection were far removed from my memory — so far that I would have certainly never again thought of them. Reading the Thankful Book had and continues to have a great effect on my outlook and perspective — greater than the best sermons and most inspirational stories.
3. Take some time at the end of the year to remember what God has done. Though I’ve been keeping notes throughout the year, sometime between now and December 31, I will make a concerted attempt to follow the tradition of old John A. Taylor who lived in the big old house at the end of the road. I’ll sit down to record in my journal how God has blessed us in 2014. Maybe some day my own kids and grandkids will also read about how God had been faithful to our family from generation to generation and find the courage to trust God through their own difficult times.
Walt Walker is the editor of Every Nation News.