By Warren Pattison
First UMC Lakeland
Today marks the fifth anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. I still remember hearing the news. It was my birthday. I cried for nearly two days straight.
Another December day, just a few years before, my wife and I got up and walked out of what I’m sure was a wonderful Advent worship service. We simply couldn’t bear to hear again the story of barren Elizabeth and the virgin Mary. Barren women and virgins could get pregnant, but not us. Wiping tears from our eyes, we quietly slipped out of the sanctuary.
In the midst of the joys and the tears, Paul calls us to rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances. Paul doesn’t say give thanks for all circumstances, but rather give thanks in all circumstances. While that distinction is helpful, finding something to rejoice about in the midst of deep pain can feel next to impossible. When we are in pain, our world shrinks and the palette dulls to shades of dun and gray. There are times that we simply must embrace the biblical practice of lament.
But how do we rejoice in that lamentation?
A wise spiritual companion once encouraged me in times of pain to pick something simple to be grateful for – to “hold on to what is good” as Paul would say. She reminded me that even though I may not be aware of it, God is present in the pain. She counseled me to find seven flowers on my morning walk, and to pray “Thank you, God, for this flower.” Or to give thanks for the beauty of twinkling Christmas lights. I discovered that even when I could not rejoice in the midst of pain and lamentation, I could find simple things to be thankful for. Breath. A candle flicker. A warm blanket and Netflix. A friend’s hug. The taste of tears.
Those simple things allowed me to see with new eyes. To give thanks — not for the pain, but in the midst of it. Thankfulness is like leaven. A little bit goes a long way in making space for God’s presence – and even rejoicing - to fill.
Prayer: God of all goodness, grant me the grace to recognize your presence in all situations, to give thanks in all circumstances, and to rejoice in all things as I hold on to the good. Call my attention to the simple things and grant me grace to give thanks for them. By the power of your Spirit, fill me with rejoicing for your goodness, love, and action in the world.
- Share a time when you felt you simply could not give thanks. What would it mean to give thanks in that circumstance, but not for it?
- What are two things for which you can give thanks now?
- How does thankfulness lead to rejoicing?
- Paul admonishes his readers to pray continually. In what ways are prayer, thankfulness and rejoicing connected?