Thank…

I picked up my cell phone, pushed the home button and said, “Text ‘So and So’.”

Siri responded, “What would you like to say to ‘So and So’?”

I began to articulate my message then paused and waited for Siri to respond.

“Would you like me to send, cancel or edit this text?” Siri asked me.

“Send.” I replied.

“Sending now.” Siri responded.

“Thank yo….” I began to say. Then I stopped myself.

It’s habit for me. A good habit–to be thankful when a task has been performed for me or if I have received assistance from someone. I want to convey my gratitude, and I want it to be received. Often, if I am thanking a person and they do not hear me, I will repeat myself to let them know I am thankful, and that their efforts meant something to me. But what does Siri do with my appreciation?

What about the act of “mindfulness” where we say what we are thankful for and try to appreciate feelings of gratitude? Who is receiving the thanks? siri

If all of life is energy–space+chance+time, and there is no ultimate reality, then my gratitude is an offering to a universe that does not care that I am here, nor did it plan my existence. The act of thankfulness to the universe becomes an empty action devoid of ultimate meaning.  Giving thanks to Siri for sending a text for me amounts to nothing, as there is nothing really meaningful received by Siri or appreciated. Giving thanks is a good practice, but just an empty exercise if there is no recipient.

It seems that we have plenty to be thankful for, but have no one to be thankful to.

One of the beautiful things about humanity is that we are capable of giving and receiving love, thanks, and appreciation. We are wired that way. We excel when we are loved and appreciated, and we deteriorate and languish when we are not loved, or noticed for who we are and the things we do. This is the Image of God stamped into each one of us. It reflects His design and character. When we give and receive love and appreciation, we develop relationships, and out of those relationships flow the most meaningful issues of life.

Thankfulness at its core declares intrinsic value. It is an acknowledgement that the deed performed was understood and recieved as a gift from the one who gave it, thereby stating that the one who gave it has value, and that their gift in some way added value to our lives by our receiving it.

The act of thankfulness is another reason I believe there is a God. The fact that I can recognize the value in another person tells me that people are created with intrinsic value. And if people have intrinsic value, it would have to be because there is a  God who both planned us, loves us,  and cares very much about our existence. He pours out His blessings on purpose, and we in turn “well up” with thankfulness. When we aren’t tossing up words to the space/time continuum, but to a Person–to God, relationship forms. And in a relationship with God we find our deepest meaning and purpose. It is then that we are able to see the beauty and value of those around us He has made in His image, and our gratitude finds a place to both be anchored and freely given.

 

 

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One Square of Toilet Paper

Toilet Paper SquareYears ago I worked as a pre-school teacher in a school my Mom directed. One day one of my three-year-old boy students had to use the bathroom, so I dismissed him to go, only to have him absent for a very long time. When I finally went to investigate as to what was taking him so long, the sight before my eyes was overwhelming.

I stepped into the boy’s bathroom to see my little student with his underwear around his ankles, diarrhea running down his legs, and that same substance all over the seat of the toilet. He was holding one square of toilet paper pinched between his index finger and thumb, and with that one square he was wiping the toilet seat. He looked up at me and said, “I will clean it Cheacher!”

Have you ever experienced something in life that was so overwhelming, and seemingly unending? Maybe you, like me, have been through seasons of life that felt like an overwhelming mess, and all you had was a square of toilet paper to combat it all with. Your inadequacy becomes highlighted by the trouble around you. Maybe you are in that season now.

Life can become unbearable. (I’ve blogged on the actual meaning of the scripture “God will not give you more than you can bear” and you can read it here.)  If you’ve lost a loved one, or struggled to keep a family together that was falling apart at the seams, you know what I am talking about. If you are battling a terminal disease, or chronic illness, you have felt this sense of overwhelming “crap”. Our own sorrows, chemical imbalances, depressions, and outlooks can also surround us and leave us feeling isolated without hope.

The “why?” questions that surround our agonies are deep and individual, and I cannot address them all here, but I want to highlight a way through our pain, and it starts with that one square of toilet paper.

One of our first mistakes in dealing with trouble and pain, is that we think we can do it ourselves. Much like the little boy in the restroom with his thumb and forefinger firmly pinched on the tissue, we gingerly go about the task of wiping up the mess. We all have our reasons for going it alone: “I don’t want to bother others with my trouble,” or “It’s no one else’s business anyways,” or “I don’t want anyone to see me like this.” All of these reasons are certainly valid in our minds, and anything less than this would be an embarrassment, and we would rather deal with our own trouble on our own terms. But the job becomes arduous, and the smell becomes overwhelming. We suddenly find we have been “absent” for a very long time. People begin wondering what happened to us. The last time they saw us, we were headed to the bathroom…

We need to cry out for help. First of all, we need to call out to God who loves us and sees us right where we are. If ever we needed the Head Janitor to get us out of our messes, it is when we are becoming buried in them. The good news is that He has a way through them already planned, and has promised to stoop down into our calamity and clean it up, and walk us out. Sometimes the walk “out” isn’t all at once, but he makes the way clearer step by step, and very often He uses people to reach us, bringing more and more squares of toilet paper to our aid.

We need to accept help. If we could release the pinch of our fingers around our “do it myself” mentality, and reach for help, we would find a greater arsenal for moving through the pain. Pastors, mentors, close friends, counselors, doctors, treatment facilities, and people with gifts of service can often provide the support we need and help us walk out of our distress. Every phone call from a friend, every meal shared, every hand extended, every word of encouragement, and every act of service being performed around us, for us, and on our behalf, is the goodness of God coming to rescue us from our crap. We need to let people into our lives to help us.

I so admired my little student’s determination and eagerness to take care of the mess he made on his own. It was clear to me however, that his resources and efforts would not be enough to fix the trouble. So I quickly went to work– first cleaning up my student. Calling another teacher in, we went about the task of changing his clothes and washing him up. Then I gathered up mops, paper towels and disinfectant and cleaned the bathroom. (Realize that sometimes our messes don’t just affect us. There may be further clean-up required.)

This is how God works on our behalf. Because He loves us, He says he will come when we call on Him. Because He is a Redeemer, Creator, and Restorer, He knows just what we need, and He has the strength we need to see it through.

May this blog today be one more square of toilet paper in your arsenal. God sees you, loves you, and wants to break into your mess. He has the resources, patience, compassion, and plan to walk you through whatever you are facing, with the power to free you from the heaviness, and redeem everything you feel you have lost. Call out to Him today.

Psalm 103:1-4
1 Praise the Lord, my soul;

all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,

Thanks

thank youThis time of year is particularly geared in both the commercial sense and the existential sense towards gratitude.  Facebook is brimming with 30 day thankfulness challenges, and people are engaging with lists of things they appreciate.  As part of the celebration of Thanksgiving, many people are jumping in with both feet to express as much gratitude as possible in 30 days.  To whom is this appreciation directed?  The answers will vary, and some expressions of gratitude actually have no destination at all.

Thankfulness is a feeling that one can have of appreciation for gifts given or grace received, but “giving thanks” is different.  Giving thanks must have a giver and a recipient.  When we give thanks, it is on purpose and with purpose, directed to someone(s) who can receive it.

When I talk to people about cultivating a lifestyle of worship, this topic of giving thanks becomes paramount.  Living  a life of thankfulness is the starting place of a lifestyle of worship, and I don’t mean just the feeling of thankfulness, because that comes and goes.  Thankfulness must take on an action, and must be offered on purpose.

It is the reason your mom had you write thank you cards to your aunt when she gave you a birthday gift.  It is the reasoning behind phone calls to friends and families to express your appreciation for who they are or what they have done.  It is the thinking behind trophies, award ceremonies, tributes, and parties thrown in someone’s honor.  There is an act of thankfulness and appreciation, and it is directed to someone, for someone, and very purposeful.

I have to admit that my generation (myself included) has forgotten or lost the art of “giving thanks” and trades it instead for a general “feeling of appreciation” that never reaches its intended destination.  Prayers around the dinner table turn to rhyme or habit, and no longer speak to someone ever-present, but chime as a tune to someone we once knew, or learned about.  Thankfulness from the masses is now a feeling expressed to the universe (which cannot receive it), not to individuals, who can, let alone God who deserves it.

There is  joy and healing found in gratitude, but it can only be discovered in “giving thanks”.   Giving thanks might mean staying on the line a few extra minutes to speak to a manager of a department in order to praise their employee who gave you great customer service.  It might mean, buying a gift for the lady who babysits your children in Fred Meyer so that you can shop in peace.  When you look people in the eye and say “Thank you,” or when you begin to take stock of your life and realize the millions of things that are yours because of a gift of love and grace, you will find a million reasons to be thankful, and hopefully a million ways to give thanks.

Worship is wrapped up in the discipline of recognizing God’s multitude of gifts and giving thanks to Him directly when that gift is recognized.  It is seeing every breath, every physical sensation, every visual delight, and every expression of grace as being gifts given by God the Creator who delights in giving them over and over and over to every generation.  When you see that sunset and think “Wow! that’s beautiful!” take another step and tell God how beautiful it is.  Tell Him how it impacts you at that moment.  Talk about what you are seeing, feeling, and experiencing in that moment of awe.  Express thanks on purpose.  If your children are with you, tell them about what the beauty means to you and who the Author of that beauty is, and teach them to say “thank you” too.

I want to challenge you in this season and beyond, to go past the lists of thankfulness you may acquire over the the course of this month, and take the extra time to actually thank those responsible for the gifts you are appreciating.  And when you have thanked individuals for the grace they have bestowed on you, turn your praise and thankfulness to God from whom all blessings flow, and thank Him personally, from your heart, with all the gratitude you feel inside.  Express your thanks in a way that matches the amount of thankfulness you feel, and then some.  This is at the heart of worship.

In the Waiting

Between the dreams and goals we have in life are these spaces of life called “the waiting”.  While we are looking ahead to the next bend in the road, or mending something torn from the last season of our life, there are moments, days, months, and maybe even years of waiting.  We all get them.  We all will continue to have them.

It’s often called the “in between”, or the “not yet”, and it is that seemingly long pause in the midst of life.  You feel it when you are waiting to hear the results of your job interview, or the update on your adoption status.  It’s the down-time in the waiting room, or the layover in the airport.  It is the long season of singleness, or the journey of barrenness.  It’s the prayer that isn’t yet answered, or the dream that isn’t being fulfilled.  This list could go on…

The difference in your life in “the waiting” will be made in what you choose “here”, and how you live.  So, in the “in-between”:

Pray.  I say this not with the intention of reserving prayer only for this season of life, because prayer should be a part of our daily life and breathing, but these moments are precious and can be made deep and meaningful by relationship with God that we cultivate while here in life’s waiting room.  Have many conversations with God covering every topic you can think of.  You will be surprised and warmed by the heart of God that is ever turned towards you.

Worship.  Your deepest need and mine is to connect to our Heavenly Father and be caught up in His splendor in the midst of our “nothingness”.  When we feel there is nothing to celebrate, run towards, or achieve, it is then that we need a different perspective, and there is nothing like looking into the face of God to change our outlook.  Read Job 38 for a view of God’s abilities beyond your “nothing”, and worship.

Study.  Some of your best education happens in the “in-between” spaces of life.  Learn something new, try a new hobby, add to your knowledge by researching, traveling, spending time with people, joining a club, organization, or take a class or two.  Add disciplines to your life in these free moments.  Disciplines will help keep you from wasting your life in the now and in the future.

Embrace.  Embrace another along the road.  Share in the help and encouragement of another traveler on the way.  Teach what you know, give what you have, “pay it forward”.

Feel.  Your capacity for love and capacity for pain go hand in hand.  Don’t numb your heart to save yourself pain.  Open your heart to God, pour out your deepest pains, and be content with leaving them in His hands.  Open your heart to others.  Forgive, try again, start anew.  Laugh, smile, and engage.

Practice Thankfulness.  Delight in something daily and give thanks– if even the rays of sun through the window, or the faithful dog at your side.  Enjoy your food, gather flowers, read books, take stock of your life and give thanks to the One who gives it to you as a gift.

Remember.  Journal, photograph, blog, or record in some way the things God has done for you.  Share them with as many people as you can in as many ways as you can.  Never forget His faithfulness.  If He was faithful then, won’t He be the same now?  The answer is, “YES!”

Psalm 30:5

For his anger lasts only a moment,
    but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning.

Jeremiah 32:27

27 “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?

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