Sunday, November 30, 2008

On Thankfulness, Suffering, and Hope

My doctrine of Thanksgiving has always been misguided. More times than not, I would find myself thanking God in a prayer when something good happens in my life. Similarly, if a person does something nice for me, I would be sure to either say thanks or write them a thank you note. As I study Paul’s epistles this semester, I have found that thanksgiving is not only a statement of gratitude, it is a state one has before God.

What does such a state look like?

The closest answer I can conjure is the very command that held the law and prophets together. “Love God and your neighbor as yourself.” In doing so, it seems that we not only acknowledge God and his supreme state of authority over us, it seems that our mindset shifts into this putting a neighbor’s needs and desires above ours. Breaking down selfishness with love is the greatest visible act of thankfulness.

Our doctrine of suffering is another thing that has been misguided. I have been raised to think that suffering is bad and happiness is the greatest good. I would not dare say suffering is always good or that happiness is bad, but Apostle Paul is constantly thanking God for the times He suffers for Christ. In suffering, we are always acknowledging that we have a certain lack that only the Creator and Redeemer could fulfill. It seems that suffering is always strengthening us in some way or another, yet it is the very thing we pray to avoid. I shall not pray for suffering, but when we are weak, God is strong. It is so much easier to return to God in a prone position when we are suffering than when we are sitting atop a mountain of man-made jewels and beauty. Only when we lower ourselves to the state of being a bondservant for Christ, do we understand the need and even the beauty of suffering. Suffering deflates pride, encourages thanksgiving, and rearranges priorities.

I was asked to use three words to describe my experience in Mexico as my family played with children in an orphanage with several other families from our church. I picked peacefulness, sadness, and thankfulness.

Peace is quite a vague term. St. Augustine once stated, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” How is it then when my heart remains in a state of turmoil, could I find a quantum of solace in such a state? I was at peace about my direction in life. It seems like this past weekend, I was able to introspectively see how far my own emotions can take my thoughts, and yet I was able to find a small measure of peace in the fact that God has been guiding my hand throughout my life. Though I sometimes desire to choose my own path, I continue to wrestle with God down the path He has already carved for me. My heart has not rested, only because it has not fully rested in Him…and yet I could find a small measure of peace in the fact that He has held my hand through it all.

I was certainly sad as I drove past the villages in Mexico. Every time I visit a poverty stricken town, I must always re-evaluate what I am doing with my life and what my priorities are? Why do I worry about the foolish things I do when remembering forever can really put things in perspective. Coming off of a bittersweet weekend, I saw something more beautifully depressing than the tremor caused by a simple whisper.

Thankfulness. Once again I return to this word. As I ran around playing with the Mexican ninos on Thanksgiving weekend, I found myself thankful that I have been given the opportunity to serve. A part of me would have just liked to be home to rest, but I found myself enjoying myself the more I played with the children.

And now, as the fountain overflows with water and the strings from the violin ring out in perfect harmony, it is time to say goodbye. There is the power of touch, the tremor of whisper, the longing in the eyes, but there is indescribable beauty beyond all that. I hope against hope, as it says in Romans, but I hope for something far away…far too foolish of me but more beautiful than a spring flower or a blossoming rose. I hope for the horizon that is splattered with a bright red and a dimming orange. I hope not for the waning moon but the bright stars all around it, which shine brighter than the moon. I hope for you.

I will remain restless, until my heart rests in Christ.
I will remain hopeful, until my heart despairs
I will remain thankful, until I can serve again


MT said...

The connection between love and thankfulness is an interesting one. I like the way you tied the thought that love is deeply rooted in a recognition of the nature of God and His creation (namely, man) and flows from that. Indeed, when we recognize God as God how can we not be thankful?

Hope is incredible too; we hope for that which we have not yet attained yet in a very real sense have already attained. Our hope shapes our reality in such a way that while we "hope until our hearts despair" we also know our hearts will not despair because the hope is continually becoming a reality. It is the life lived through the lens of the classic "already, not yet" theme.

Thanks Chris for these thoughts! Something in me, in all of us, thrills to share in the journey of a brother or sister.

Grace and peace!

mel g said...

chris, your writing answers my prayers. thank you.