The Heart of Thanksgiving

The Heart of Thanksgiving November 25, 2015

I happened, in the early hours of this morning, to listen to the sweep of chapters in 2 Samuel that take David from fugitive to King of Judah, through political upheaval to being King of Israel, to bringing the Ark of God to Jerusalem and finally to his sin with Bathsheba. This is familiar, well worn language. The names aren’t a surprise, nor the rhythms of the text. However, like several other moments in scripture, the familiarity only increases the dread. The volatile violence, the ominous business of David staying home from war, the death of the child–I try to rush past it without being overwhelmed by grief.

Even so, in my dreading await of David’s sin, I was caught off guard by Michal’s rebuking of David for dancing before the Ark. He is dancing and rejoicing, and she looks out of her window and despises him. Then, later, she comes to meet him and says, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” – 2 Samuel 6:20 For this rebuke, she remains for the rest of her days barren and childless, alone, essentially, with her judgement.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving–the perfect day, I always think, to indulge, along with the pie and the gravy, in a little gentle judgment of others and the world. We can all go around the table naming something that we’re thankful for, but Facebook and Instagram beckon silently from each and every accessible devise. We’ll all post pictures of our tables and like them, and it’ll be charming. But then there’ll be the chance to sip wine and cast judgment over the politics, the religion, the life choices of others. For those who plan to shop on Friday, there are already myriad articles condemning the overall commercialism of the season. For those who have decorated for Christmas, the Advent observers can quietly wag their heads. For those who think Syrian refugees should be accepted, the strong defense people can quietly seethe. Meanwhile, the refugee supporter can wonder aloud about the motives and feelings of the one who has posted on Facebook that the door should, for the moment, be closed.

We both judge, and writhe under the judgment of others. I always feel judged, whether it should or should not be so, by the gratitude of others. I always feel, when other people are being thankful, that they are being thankful in order to make me look bad. To soothe my guilty conscience I turn it around and judge the thankful person for the quality and motives of their thanksgiving. I like to be Michal, sitting aloft on the Internet, feeling uncomfortable about the apparent naked gratitude of others, wishing they would stop it because I can’t join them in feeling any of that stuff. Then I like to climb down and be David, rebuking others for not attending enough to the scriptures and a plain love of God. I think everyone is thinking about me, and I think about them thinking about me, and I get angry.

I don’t think I’m alone. Anger is in the air. It is flying in planes and falling with them from the sky. It is in the grocery aisle and the church pew. It is on the college campus and in congress. It is brewing like a raging storm cloud over the west, and the east, and the south, and the north. If ever there was a moment for judgment, of stopping to wonder what we, as the human family, are capable of doing, this should be that moment. We should judge ourselves, first, but that is well nigh impossible. So we naturally turn outwards and judge the other, spurred on, of course, by the occasional judgment that turns out to be right.

The easy answer, of course, is that gratitude is the antidote to anger fomented in judgment. Make a list. Have an attitude of gratitude. Just think three good things for every bad thing you feel like saying. Come on. It’s thanksgiving.

To which I say, not everyone can get there. And for the one who feels like they are there, often that person will turn the corner, thinking everything is fine, and find anger and disappointment crouching on the other side. A trick for the mind will work for a while, but the sinner will always and forever fall back into sin.

Which is why I don’t think the real antidote to a judging and angry world is gratitude. I think it is repentance. Repentance is first and foremost the judging of oneself against the character and nature of God and finding the self to be wanting. It is terribly hard to do. The bible indicates, and I have found this to be true, that God gives to the sinner the desire and ability to repent. It doesn’t spring up from the same well as the sin itself, it is given as a gift, a cutting open of the heart by God. “You are the man” says God, you did it. And then you can fall down and be sorry. The more often you can see that you are the man, the woman, the sinner, the transgressor, the more anger will be taken away from you.

You can see this unfold in the transparent, uncluttered life of a child. A child who has sinned is one of the angriest, unhappiest people in the world. If a child is crying and acting out, six times out of ten it’s because they’ve done something wrong (the other four times are because they’re hungry). Unhappily, repentance is often withheld from children. Every time you tell a child that it’s ok, they shouldn’t feel bad about their selfishness, their pride, their unkindness, their lying, you are locking them into their own anger. The self esteem movement, the getting the child to think well of himself and his motivations unintentionally fastens the child into the bitterness of an unrepentant spirit. Whereas, if a child is given the gift of repentance, the gentle space to admit wrong doing, the anger melts away. Did you just do what I said not to do? You must say that you are sorry and repent. Were you unkind to a sibling? Were you selfish? Sin is always crouching at the door, ready to devour with anger and discomfort and self justification.

But when you have confessed your sins and turned around back towards God and been forgiven, two things happen. First, Jesus absorbs the sin and the anger into himself. He payed the penalty for your sin on the cross, he gathered it into himself. The merits and benefits of his work are applied to your sinful actions and soul. You are forgiven. Second, the most remarkable flowing stream of gratitude is given. If repentance is a gift, and it is, gratitude and thankfulness are its necessary outflow. Jesus absorbs your sin and anger in to himself and gives you the free, life giving experience of gratitude.

For that, I really am, unabashedly grateful. Happy Thanksgiving!

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