We made picture frames out of old barn boards, pulled right out of the rambling building that used to be glorious and now is decidedly not. And the boards were covered with aged manure. I meant to chip or sand it off. At the time we joked that it was symbolic, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
I embroidered “Give Thanks.” The words were etched in the middle of a pretty scene of a house and flowers. And I love it, by the way. Then, I punched this scene right into the middle of manure caked on dark stained wood. Did anyone say real life?
It’s easy to give thanks when things are going in a way that meets our definition of good – when the harvest is great, the baby is thriving or you’ve just met the love of your life. These are good things and blessings and we ought to give thanks – and we do. These are moments of joy and we should let ourselves fall into a sea of praise and laughter marvelling at the providence of Him who gave us air to breathe.
But what if the money in the bank is growing thin? What happens to joy when babies die, or are killed…when no eligible man is to be found within a twenty mile radius? Give thanks? This isn’t good. This isn’t a gift from God. Satan whispers “it’s a curse.” Can “no babies” be just as much of a blessing as a baby bump? If you choose to believe that God does not curse his children, if you choose to believe that “all things work together for good” then giving thanks never stops. It was read from the pulpit on a Sunday – Psalm 116: “I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving.”
I will give thanks even when it hurts. I will give thanks even when the car won’t start and I’m late already. I will give thanks when I fail tests. I will give thanks when the dirty laundry pile is higher than me. We live in a world where children are abused, people are killed for their faith, and words are flung like arrows to wound sensitive hearts. These are moments of sorrow and we should let ourselves fall into a sea of praise and tears wondering at the providence of Him who gave us air to breathe.
Really? Give thanks in the midst of this dung caked world? Yes, really. Because thanksgiving is a form of prayer and prayer never stops. Prayer does not change God but it does change you. It changes tiny definitions of “good” and narrow views of providence. It does not make us happy all the time. It does not always take away sadness and anger. And death is always an effrontery. But thanksgiving makes the difference between seeing the curse and seeing the blessing. Thanksgiving, with the work of the Holy Spirit, tears away the blinding scales off our eyes and makes us read and remember what comes before Psalm 116: 17 – “You have loosed my bonds.” Can we trust the One who saved us from hell and has promised everlasting life when the casserole is burnt to a crisp? Can we give thanks even when we don’t feel like it? (Begin by thanking God we don’t have to do this alone. The Spirit is there. Let him help.)
And so I leave the frame caked with manure just the way it is, and the flowers stand out all the brighter.