In August, I was in Alaska for my niece’s wedding. Several of the family had just spent a miserably cold, wet day in Seward touring the Kenai Fjords National Park in search of whales, seals, sea birds and other marine wildlife, without any luck. The sea was extremely rough because of an approaching storm, and the animals–having more sense than the humans–had stayed quietly at home. Before we climbed back into the car for the return trip to Anchorage, we stopped at the Alaska SeaLife Center to dry off, warm up, and see the marine animals we missed in the wild.
I was standing in the puffin exhibit when a college-aged docent standing nearby asked me a surprising question: “Where, oh where, did you get that awesome 80’s ski jacket?”
“At a Goodwill store in the awesome 80’s,” I responded dryly.
“If I saw that in a Goodwill today, I would say, ‘Thank you, God!’” she cried.
If I had not been planning to hike a glacier the next morning, I would have handed her my coat on the spot. Truth be told, I wouldn’t mind having an awesome 18’s ski jacket.
Her words stuck with me, though. Here’s what I have observed: How easy it is to say “Thank you, God!” when I get what I desire. When times are good. When all is well. Interesting that I didn’t say, “Thank you, God!” when I put the coat on that morning, or even as it was keeping me dry in the storm.
How humbling it is to realize that gratitude is something we choose to wear. And although practicing gratitude can feel mundane, like an old coat, not wearing it exposes us to many real dangers.
In recent months, it seems like every project I have touched at work has had to be redone, either because of my own error or because of someone else’s—from the designer to the printer, the supplier, the shipping company, and the install team. As deadline pressures mounted and mishaps continued, I became more stressed, anxious, sleepless, and then sick.
In a moment of discouragement, I recalled the words of Jesus: “In this world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33).
Yes, I have tribulations, although admittedly of the first-world variety and mostly involving technology or relationships. I’ve not yet suffered real persecution, or famine or nakedness or danger or sword. I have much for which to be grateful. But “be of good cheer?”
Then there’s the instruction in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
In theory, I understand this. The times of greatest growth in my life have come when I stepped outside my comfort zone or have been stretched beyond my own capacity. Then in weakness, I hunger and thirst after God. Then I seek him more earnestly in prayer and search His Word. Then I find words of wisdom, comfort and hope.
In practice, though, I still struggle to give thanks in all circumstances. Oh, for His grace to be of good cheer when I feel like crying, to put on gratitude when I feel like complaining, to believe when I don’t see, to be awed by His glory rather than disappointed and seasick in the storm. That is, after all, His Good Will for us in Christ Jesus. Thank you, God!