Christians choose to believe that meaning comes from God. That our everyday, mundane instances are, in actuality, extravagant gestures because God has created us in his image and every part of creation worships him.
That realization is what helps Christians to "give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thess. 5:18). Because there are so many things—both good and bad—that can only be called "extravagant gestures," and those are the things that compel us to be thankful. The good things that happen in life remind us of the promise of God, and we are called to be thankful. The bad things that happen in life remind us of the hope God has promised, and we are called to be thankful. We don't have to be spiritual masochists, pretending to enjoy the painful parts of life. Rather, Christians are thankful for the hope of a new creation where the tragedies of this life are wiped away like tears.
The Bible reminds us repeatedly to give thanks to God, "by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God" (Phil. 4:6). It very rarely mentions specific things we ought to be thankful for. Scripture talks about gifts from God (James 1:17's "every good and perfect gift") but doesn't often provide lists of the things we often feel obliged to give thanks for. We aren't given a nice cheat sheet that will make those awkward pre-Thanksgiving moments a little easier. Instead, Christians remember the extravagance of God, the meaning and love imbued in our lives and our experiences. These aren't limited to getting things we can count off on our fingers, or even to the good stuff that happened in the course of a given year.
That's the difference between a childhood notion of thanksgiving, which mostly thinks about the pious and "right" things to be thankful for, and the mature Christian's thanksgiving, which recognizes that things like freedom, family, and friends (to name just a few things worth being thankful for) are signifiers that point to the true reason we can be thankful: That a Creator has given us extravagant blessings that are filled with meaning beyond comprehension. Christians are exhorted to be thankful precisely because we are to know where our grace and our hope come from, and know that there is so much in this world God uses to reveal himself, we can't help but be thankful. We can offer thanksgiving because the events of our lives, great and small, good and bad, are given purpose with the extravagant love of a Father who will stop at nothing to show himself to his children.
Ryan E.C. Hamm is a writer living in Florida. You can follow him on Twitter @RyanECHamm or read more at RyanECHamm.com.
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