In his blog “Glory to God for All Things,” Father Stephen raises the bar of thanksgiving from a simple holiday to the higher place it holds in our relationship with God:
The act of giving thanks is among the most fundamental acts of love. It lies at the very heart of worship – in which, in the words of Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex, there is an exchange. In giving thanks we make an offering which itself is always inferior to what we have received – but which is itself an enlargement of the human heart. To live rightly in the presence and communion of God is to live in a state of constant thanksgiving. For from Him we receive all that we have – our life and existence, all good things, the hope of redemption, and the joy of communion. The offering of thanksgiving is the acknowledgment within our heart that we ourselves are not the author of any of these things, but are rather the recipients – those who receive gifts from God.
To live rightly in the presence and communion of God is to live in a state of constant thanksgiving, Father Stephen says. He’s right on target (as he almost always is—a passing note of interest is to point out the depth of his Orthodox theology), so here are the things I’m most thankful for. I hope they prompt you toward the “exchange” Father Stephen mentions.
I’m thankful for: a God larger than my ideas, preconceptions, experience and intellect who occasionally gives me glimpses of glory that blow my mind.
I’m thankful for: a home where my wife and I are continuing the work of building sanctified lives together through the changing seasons of life. Thirty-one years of marriage next week, that presently includes two grown children, a son-in-law, two dogs (a main one and an auxiliary) and a cat. A place of love and faith, prayer and Scripture, NCIS and Georgia football, and genuine peace. As I grow older, I cherish home more than ever as the place that gives stability, nurture, sustenance and grace to the rest of life. Pam and I, on a regular basis, host young couples engaged to be married for a weekend in our home. They come in on Saturday and spend an afternoon in pre-marital counseling with me while Pam fixes supper. We debrief the counseling around the supper table. They spend the night with us then go to church with us the next morning. When I later officiate at their weddings I not only have a deeper relationship with them, I know they’ve experienced, if only a little bit, a Christian marriage and home.
I’m thankful for: my children, who continue to be the source of blessing to Pam and me in more ways than we ever would have imagined. An old Irish proverb speaks of the family as “Living in the Shelter of Each Other.” That’s what ours has been. Even now, with the kids living far away from us, the connection with them is undiminished in terms of love, shared faith, playfulness and good humor.
I’m thankful for: my friends, men and women down through the years, as well as those from more recent times, who have altered the trajectory of my life through their affection. CS Lewis says somewhere that the love friends share is the highest kind of love because it’s the least self-interested. I don’t know if I would go that far, but just knowing there are men and women who I can count on to look out for me—even as I do for them—and who tell me the truth, make my life a richer place.
I’m thankful for: the church, with all its successes and failures, all its worship and ministries, all the tradition that sometimes makes me crazy and all the unexpected expressions of sacrifice and humility that characterize the people, all the stuff we get right and the stuff we get wrong. Because the local church (and I’m a local church guy much more than an institutional guy) really is the place where divine grace is experienced. I’ve been at this pastor gig for almost thirty years now and feel like I’m still learning new stuff every day—that’s exhilarating.
I’m thankful for: the stuff God’s given me and my family. To tell the truth, I never thought I’d be as blessed as I am. I’m learning the truth of 1 Timothy 4:4, “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.”
Life is good; God is good; and thanksgiving is a joy. I hope you have a blessed thanksgiving.