Gratitude

From the Dickinson County News’s Pastor’s Blog.

I have lived in Iowa my whole life except for the three years I lived in Tennessee for seminary. The terrain in Tennessee differs greatly from Iowa. My wife Sara and I lived on the Cumberland Plateau surrounded by forest. The great trees often blocked the sun from shining into our home.

Four months into our sojourn, we made our way back to Iowa for Thanksgiving. Because of Sara’s work schedule, we were going to have to drive on Thanksgiving Day from Sewanee, Tennessee, to Iowa City. It was not the way either of us wanted to spend ten hours of a holiday. We woke up before the sunrise and started the trip. Our Thanksgiving lunch was a trip to Dunkin’ Doughnuts in Paducah, Kentucky.

After a full day of driving, we finally crossed the Iowa River along the Missouri border and were back in Iowa. It was an unusually cold November day. With a couple of hours still to go, I looked to the west and was overwhelmed by the beauty of God’s creation.

The crystalline air magnified the gorgeous magenta, pink, orange and purple of the sunset. I looked over at Sara and said, “I haven’t seen the sunset in four months.” It was true. In the business of starting school and settling into a new place, I had forgotten a precious perk of the life in Iowa. As I have reflected and prayed through that moment, I thought about how often I had taken it for granted.

I wondered how many of my summer games had been played, unknowingly, before the gorgeous backdrop of color and light. I wondered how many trips had felt shorter because of a priceless display burning splendor. I wondered how many bad days had melted away by watching the western horizon become a canvass brushed with a master’s hand.

I soon came to the realization that God often works in our lives with the subtleness of the sunset. He is working everyday whether we notice it or not. He is working whether we have time to appreciate it or when we are too busy. He is working on our good days and our bad days.

God is always working, still creating the world and fulfilling the promises he made to his creation. When I realized this, I was filled with gratitude. Gratitude is what sanctifies our whole lives. It’s that moment when we look back on our journey and see God’s footprints in the sand.

It is when we see all the sunsets of our lives. It’s when we see that our ordinary days are actually shot through with the light of God’s grace, mercy and love.

We are often taught to always look forward to the next big purchase. Our society is built on consuming thing after thing. Happiness, we reckon, is only a new pair of shoes, a new car or a new house away. But when we cultivate a habit of gratitude, we find that goodness has already arrived if we stop to appreciate it.

I would commend to you, dear reader, to mark your days. Don’t let one day go by without saying thank you to God. As you develop this practice, your gratitude for God will pour out into gratitude for your neighbor. Tell a neighbor, “Thank you.”

You might see how God is working through them to support you and sustain you. Perhaps they remembered your birthday or just smiled at you on a day when you really needed it. As you take the time to look with gratitude on all your neighbor does for you, you might even look with gratitude toward a stranger.

Maybe God is using your neighbor in a way like he uses the sunset, in a way you wouldn’t notice unless you were looking. Maybe your waiter was extra courteous. Maybe someone let you into traffic on a busy day on Highway 71.

Thank them, if you can. And if you can’t, thank God for them. You will never regret it.

I know it’s a little silly to write about Thanksgiving in August. But that’s the point, I guess. What would our world look like if every day were little bit more like Thanksgiving Day?

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