Did you feel grateful this Thanksgiving? I imagine that many had a hard time tapping into those feelings of gratitude, especially if one followed the CDC’s recommendation to stay at home. To state the obvious: 2020 has been a painful year. Covid-19 deaths, protest-igniting deaths, deaths at protests, lock-downs, lost jobs, delayed hopes of a vaccine and another round of stimulus checks, a factious election, you name it; this year does not exactly inspire a great deal of thankfulness.
The standard Christian line is, despite the pandemic and all the economic and political turbulence, we ought to be thankful. “Give thanks in all circumstances,” says St. Paul to the church in Thessalonica. Gratitude should characterize the Christian life. Ingratitude is a sin. Karl Barth, arguably the most influential Protestant theologian of the 20th century, raised the stakes, writing: “Sin is ingratitude.”
The corollary to all this seems to be “count your blessings.” Who hasn’t heard those well-meant, overused words before? The premise of this popular spiritual discipline is that if one takes the time to evaluate one’s circumstances, no matter how unfortunate they are, then one will inevitably begin to see the good things in one’s life. That goodness will then prompt one to gratitude, putting one’s life in perspective: even in the midst of difficulty, there is still goodness or what Christians call “grace.” To put it another way, the Creator is gracious and, therefore, creatures ought to be grateful.
Believer or not, holiday or not, it wouldn’t hurt to do some blessing-counting this year; surely there are some things that might draw out an attitude of thanksgiving. This is not optimism so much as realism, an honest appraisal that life is not totally bleak, and that goodness does seem to meet us, if one looks for it.
Even so, even if one finds a host of blessings in 2020, if one is truly realistic, then one will likely admit that gratitude has not been perfectly forthcoming—and many might find it absolutely arduous to muster up any of those feelings at all.
And, this is precisely where Christianity has something more to say than just the bland “count your blessings,” and something more to do than try to manage a response. Indeed, Christians, evangelicals in particular, and evangelical pastors without a doubt, have a long history of trying to elicit responses from folks. Christianity isn’t fundamentally about a response, not even faith. It is about the object of faith or, better, a person in whom one is called to have faith. Christianity is about Jesus–at least it should be. And, in my mind, what is so compelling about Jesus is that He not only reveals the goodness or grace of God, but Jesus also offers up the perfect human response. Jesus lives life in full awareness of His blessings and offers that life of thanksgiving back to God.
If you’re not feeling grateful post-thanksgiving and if counting your blessings isn’t proving effective, then that’s OK. The good news is still that there is One who can truly offer up gratitude on behalf of all of us — and maybe that will make you a little thankful, after all.