“In everything give thanks” –1 Thessalonians 5:18
Reading this verse has always given me comfort, as all my life, my beautiful mama has taught me the importance of daily gratitude. However, as easy as it may be to commit to memory, how difficult it is for us silly humans to put into action, especially when the circumstances of life take a thorny turn — a turn that differs from what we expected, planned, or hoped for — and instead offers hardship, suffering, weakness, and helplessness.
Just in this past year and a half of my life, I have experienced such circumstances that seemed to spin out of control – definitely out of the control I thought I had or needed to have: a broken relationship, my parents’ health on a capricious pendulum, and the rapid decline of my own physical health.
The last situation is the one that has been the most enduring and significant, as I carry it with me each day. Approaching a ripe 32 years of age, my identity as a driven athlete began to erode. All my life I had been active and determined to give my very best effort in every area – academics, service, family, relationships, sports, etc. – especially as a product of a school where the term “excellence” is the standard. I was an athlete from the womb and all through high school and college, and I was motivated to continue to do something once I ventured out on my own and began my career as a teacher. And so an opportunity to run a marathon to raise money for leukemia and lyphoma research arrived, and for the next three years, I became an intense marathon runner. When I experienced quite a few injuries throughout those years of pounding (perhaps a loving tap or nudge from God?) that later sidelined me from long-distance running, I then leapt and latched onto a bike. I thought to myself, “biking is much kinder on the knees! Better to commute this way, right? Go, green, baby, and save money on gas! Be a good role model!” Alas, after years and years of abusing and demanding too much from my body and myself, focusing on accomplishing and being “healthy,” and yet afflicted by buried pride all along, this bike commuter can now no longer ride; this marathoner can now no longer run and is even limited on how far and often she can take the longer walks she enjoys most.
Those erected identities, idols, and worldly accomplishments, and that driven feeling of having to perform in order meet or exceed everyone’s expectations of me came tumbling down on all sides. With this came incredible physical pain, emotional anguish, desperate uncertainty, helplessness, fear, and grief over losing an old self, but with it has also come the greatest, lasting gift: my true identity has re-emerged as a beloved child of God.
Having endured these experiences of suffering (and oh, yes, they still continue!), I feel like I am becoming more and more who God truly created me to be – that silly 10-year old spirit who can let loose, laugh wildly, forgive herself, and not hold herself to such rigorous schedules, routines, rules, and worldly expectations. God is helping me transform my thinking from focusing on what I cannot do anymore to focusing on what I can and how I can please and serve him with ALL that he has given me. In his gracious fashion, God has reminded me of my deeper loves of being still and quiet, reading with my legs propped up (and NOT feeling guilty for it!), writing poetry, playing my guitar, celebrating more quality time with family and friends, and getting more involved with service and at church. He has also opened me to new experiences, urged me to take more risks, and encouraged me to consider less what other people think and more what he intends and wants for me. Most importantly, God is helping me escape such a self-focused agenda, illuminating the detrimental pride that so insidiously nearly swallowed me whole.
Indeed, “in everything give thanks,” as I have found that in my loss, I have gained. Thanks be to God, I have gained freedom. Thanks be to God, I have reclaimed my identity as his, not the world’s. Thanks be to God, I do not have to strive to be anything less than a recipient – a joyful, attentive, hopeful, and obedient recipient – of his amazing grace. What a gift to serve a God who sacrificed more than we could ever fathom and sent his only son to endure a cross of suffering and death beyond our imaginations — and for us. Yes, this is the same God whose story does not end with death, but with new, resurrected life.
So, whatever you are enduring at the moment (we are all enduring something in this fallen world), keep on going, have faith, cling to hope in our loving God, and “in everything give thanks.” The good Lord knows his children far better than we know ourselves.
“In all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” -Romans 8:28
“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” -Proverbs 19:21
“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” -John 12:24
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak; then I am strong.” -2 Corinthians 12:9-10