I was in the middle of making a French silk pie when my friend called. “I’m leaving for my country today. Could you meet me to say goodbye? Right now?”
Her leaving wasn’t a surprise, but I had hoped she wouldn’t leave on the same day that my guest was arriving from North Africa. And I had hoped the phone call wouldn’t come in the middle of chilling cream and a saucepan full of warm chocolate.
I had too much to do to walk an hour just to give her and her little girl a goodbye kiss. There was a pile of laundry, beds to make, and food to prepare. Not only that, but I also had to leave for work soon.
It would be four long months until I would see her again.
So I charged down the street towards the meeting place. Sweat trickled down my back as I frantically reorganized my mental to-do list. “Lord, I can’t handle so many things at once. Teach me to be thankful for my blessings!” I counted a blessing or two before my mind switched back to the tasks that lay unfinished at home.
I was walking so fast, I almost didn’t notice a familiar face.
Angela* was an acquaintance. She had migrated from Central to Western Europe for the sake of her handicapped son. Life hadn’t been easy and health issues now made it even harder. Still she smiled.
We paused on the street for a greeting and a brief chat. Her cheery face radiated a peace that passed all understanding, especially my understanding.
I didn’t stop to think before blurting out, “Your face has so much peace. You look so happy!”
She smiled. “Well, I am. I can walk. I can work. Those are blessings.”
Angela wasn’t ticking off a blessing or two between the irritated recalculating of a to-do list. She was wearing thankfulness.
In his letter to the church in Colossae, the apostle Paul refers to “putting on” the new self, the renewed and holy life. In this context, he mentions thanksgiving four times (Col. 4-5). Why?
Thanksgiving is one of the keys to dressing oneself in the new self.
Thanksgiving is intentional. Paul paints pictures of deliberate action when he says, “Be thankful” (3:15), “with thankfulness in your hearts” (3:16), “giving thanks” (3:17), and “being watchful in [prayer] with thanksgiving” (4:2). Thanksgiving doesn’t just happen; you are responsible to make it happen. Thanksgiving is choosing to see the blessings in reality: the yesterdays, the tomorrows, but especially the right now of life. Wearing thankfulness like Angela is a choice; it’s learned.
Yet, thanksgiving isn’t ignorant. It is not a Pollyanna attitude that doesn’t acknowledge the hard. And it isn’t never wishing things were different than they are.
Even though Paul recognizes that he is in chains for Christ’s sake (4:3), he starts this letter by giving thanks for the Colossae church (1:3). Does he want to be freed from his imprisonment? Of course!
While still on trial, he wishes that all men were like him “except these chains” (Acts 26:29). In Colossians, he reminds the believers to “remember my chains” (4:18). Even though he would rather that God’s work continue without his needing to be under house arrest, he acknowledges to the Philippians: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (1:12).
Paul makes a choice that, because God is intricately involved in the details of his life, he will wear thankfulness for his right now. Even without always seeing the bigger picture.
When Angela walks home from her house cleaning job and steps over the sewage on the sidewalk, through the gaping door with the broken glass, past the out-of-service elevator, and up three flights of stairs to where her handicapped son is waiting for his lunch and her neighbors are waiting to ask favors, her thanksgiving is a choice.
*Angela is a pseudonym
Trish Kauffman lives in Western Europe and works with immigrants. Because of the nature of her work, she has chosen a pseudonym. She is energized by open conversations that point to Jesus. She also loves being part of a community, reading, touring out-of-the-way places, and organizing (as long as some spontaneity is in the mix). She used to think she liked language-learning until she started learning Arabic. For her, the hardest part about living away from home is leaving behind family.