Learning new things has not always been easy for me, and learning to be thankful was a lesson that came through difficulty. Many years ago, during a challenging time in my life, a mentor led me to read a book that changed my life. It was the classic, “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
The story is about Ivan, a Soviet gulag prisoner. It reads like a diary, or twitter, of the details during his day. The conditions were similar to a Holocaust concentration camp, where many froze to death during the night, and others died of disease and malnutrition.
As I read the book, I remember having to take breaks, because I would find myself in a dark, depressive state. I was unable to read this account and not consider my own life. Ivan felt blessed to have been able to sit and eat his breakfast. He was able to steal an additional minute or two at the worksite fire and warm himself from the bitter cold. At the end of the day, for some reason, he was given an extra portion of bread, which led to a dilemma as to eat it before it was stolen or the rats found it, or to save it and enjoy it as long as he could.
I soon found that I had no reason to complain, and my difficulties were nothing but inconveniences at best. I was renewed in this reprioritization upon redeployment from Iraq. Life is precious and I am truly blessed. However, I think the reality is that I have learned to see, even look for, the blessings given me instead of looking at the negative around me. I’ve learned that I will see what I look for.
Saint Paul is telling us the same thing in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” It is important that we understand what he is saying. He says, give thanks IN all circumstances, not FOR all circumstances. In all conditions in which we find ourselves, we CAN give thanks for God’s constant presence.
Remember Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” Even there, in the valley, we are not alone, forgotten or hopeless. God is with us.
As I look at American culture, we are not taught how to be thankful very well. Normally there is a polite ‘thank you’ shared, but this is not the true concern. The real issue is a heart condition, and the heart condition of our culture says, “Give me more” or “I deserve more; I am entitled.” I thank God that HE has not given us what we truly deserve, but HIS mercy gives us what HE “showers” upon us. A heart condition is changed in part to a new head knowledge that, when applied, will bring a life change.
Have you learned well to be thankful for what you do have? Are you sleeping with rats tonight? Have you eaten today and are you fully clothed? Is anyone shooting at you today? Friend, we don’t have to look far to see what we do have. Be blessed and be thankful this season.