I used to find 1 Thessalonians 5:18 a troubling verse... until a few weeks ago.
“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”
My problem with the verse is that it seems to be commanding the follower of Jesus to be thankful for ALL THINGS that happen to us. As a pastor, how would I tell someone who has cancer to be thankful forcancer, for this is God’s will for them? How would I comfort a parent who has lost a young child with the words, “Be thankful for this - for this is God’s will for you?” It seems like a statement like this would do more harm than good for someone who is walking through an experience of pain or hardship that has come on them through no fault of their own!
I was preparing my sermon on The Practice of Thankfulness a few weeks ago. This verse kept haunting me and I wrestled with it. Am I really supposed to be thankful for the terrible things that happen to me? Then, add to that the idea that the verse says this is God’s will for me, for you, for your children?? Yikes! That could mess with your head and heart! Let me assure you that preparing for this sermon was a real struggle. Then, I went skiing and learned an important lesson that I hope can help you with the circumstances within which you find yourselves.
After work on Friday, three weeks ago, I decided to head up to Cypress Mountain to meet up with my son who was on his school ski club trip. Together with a few other parents, we caught up with our kids and then stayed later into the evening to ski. It was a bit foggy, but I was so thankful that I was able to be there and to ski with them. On my third run of the night, while my speed was at its peak, I crossed skis with one of the kids (I was skiing too close to him and he ended up unharmed thankfully!). It all happened so fast. All I remember is that I went down hard and the fall made a yard sale out of my equipment and me! I sat there in shock as my right shoulder was in excruciating pain. It turned out that I badly dislocated my shoulder in the fall. I was so thankful that a couple of the dads (friends of mine) were able to guide me down to look for help. As we were making our way to the medical hut, one of my son’s friends said to me, “I think that you are really brave!” What sweet and encouraging words to hear at this time. At that moment, I started thinking about the verse - “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for those that belong to Christ Jesus.”
These words were replaying in my head - as my friends were helping to carry me to the medical attendant, as someone helped to take my helmet off, as the ski patrol and friends gently helped take off my new ski jacket so it wouldn’t get cut off of me, as I was being put into a sling, as someone was taking my ski boots off and putting my shoes on so I would feel more comfortable, as my niece was getting the car ready to transport me to emergency, as the ski patrol was making me laugh, as other parents were able to take my son the rest of the night so he could continue to ski and have fun, and as a friend took care of all of the details, even inputting the address of the hospital into Google maps so that my niece from Manitoba could drive me to the hospital efficiently. As I was experiencing some of the worst pain I have experienced before, something shifted in my mind.
I was able to be thankful IN this circumstance,
but not necessarily FOR this circumstance.
I was thankful for the needle that the nurse used so that the drugs could easily access my body and alleviate some of the pain. I was thankful for the laughing gas they gave me so that the doctor could manipulate my arm and put my shoulder back into place. I was overwhelmed with thankfulness for the care that I received by so many people in the midst of the pain and confusion I was experiencing. I was able to be thankful in this circumstance.
This Thomas Merton quote has been on my mind this week:
“One of the most important—and most neglected—elements in the beginnings of the interior life is the ability to respond to reality, to see the value and the beauty in ordinary things, to come alive to the splendor that is all around us.” –Thomas Merton
On that Friday night, I was keenly aware of the splendor of the people who were around me, caring for me in the midst of my pain. That alone is a gift, to have eyes to see such things in the midst of the pain. May God grant us the gift of sight to see the beauty that is around us, so that we can be a thankful people “IN” all circumstances, even the hard, painful and confusing ones. And to be a people who can hold up and care well for those around us who are experiencing difficult circumstances.