Confession: I am a perfectionist. I like to do things well, and I like to feel like a success. I like it when things in my life look a certain way. Unfortunately, I am not perfect, and I don’t live with perfect people. My husband does not mind piles of dishes in the sink for days or unopened mail on the counter. My three-year-old is still hazy on the definition of the word “obey” and has a stubbornness that I can already tell is going to be a stumbling block in his own walk with God. I tend to bite off more than I can chew. Pinterest and I have a tenuous relationship, which is always a disappointing reality check. When I begin to see the dishes pile up, the projects gathering dust and send my son to time-out for the umpteenth time, I start to get overwhelmed by the imperfection of my life. I get discouraged that I can’t seem to take care of everything the way it should be taken care of, and worry that my sinfulness is going to irreparably damage my children.
As I was brainstorming what to write to celebrate Thanksgiving this month, I read verse after verse about thanksgiving and praise and gratitude. They were all good, familiar verses that are pretty standard this time of year. But I couldn’t get excited about any of them. I was getting frustrated, struggling to find a truly poignant way to write about such a traditional subject. As I went about my chores, I prayed that God would give me the words, and in my frustration, I said, “I’m just too overwhelmed to even think about being thankful.” Well, there it is. When I am overwhelmed with life, it is hard to be genuinely thankful.
This year, I think the lesson to be learned is one on perspective. One of the things those psalms of thanksgiving have in common is that the one giving thanks is always elevating God above his own circumstances. The Israelites are known throughout Scripture for constantly failing to follow the commands of the Lord, for getting distracted by their surroundings and being led astray by their sinful nature, and yet in His grace and unfailing love, He continually pulls them out of the pit and provides a way out for them.
“I waited patiently for the Lord;
And He inclined to me and heard my cry.
He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay,
And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.” Psalm 40:1-2
I am just like the Israelites, focusing so much on my circumstances that I can’t see a reason to be thankful in the life He’s given me. I need a shift in my perspective. Can I pull my focus away from the imperfections of my life long enough to give thanks for who God is? Because even in my messy life, His love is constant. He is faithful when I am faithless, and He answers me when I cry to Him out of weakness and discouragement. In Psalm 138, David is thanking God for His care and attention while Israel was in captivity. Their lives were hard, full of abuse and physical labor, yet God had not forgotten them. David prays,
I will give You thanks with all my heart;
I will sing praises to You before the gods.
I will bow down toward Your holy temple
And give thanks to Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth;
For You have magnified Your word according to all Your name.
On the day I called, You answered me;
You made me bold with strength in my soul.
All the kings of the earth will give thanks to You, O Lord,
When they have heard the words of Your mouth.
And they will sing of the ways of the Lord,
For great is the glory of the Lord.
For though the Lord is exalted,
Yet He regards the lowly,
But the haughty He knows from afar.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me;
You will stretch forth Your hand against the wrath of my enemies,
And Your right hand will save me.
The Lord will accomplish what concerns me;
Your lovingkindness, O Lord, is everlasting;
Do not forsake the works of Your hands.
I need to remember this. I need to remember that God is ever-sovereign, the King of all Creation and the lover of my soul even on my worst days. How can I keep myself from getting lost in the temporal issues of my life, so I can see God’s everlasting kindness?
The Apostle Paul gives us some clear direction in changing our perspective: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1-2). When my focus is on the things above, I remember the attributes of God. I remember that He is good and faithful and compassionate, strong and abundantly patient. My circumstances don’t change when I thank God for who He is; my perception of those circumstances does. When I seek Him through His Word and in prayer, I can see what is eternal. I don’t have to give thanks because it’s tradition. I don’t have to give thanks because it’s Thanksgiving and that’s what all the decorations at the store are telling me to do. I don’t even have to give thanks because people at church do. If I can get my mind off my messy kitchen, misbehaving child, off my Pinterest-fails and just generally shift my focus off myself, maybe I will see more plainly how “out of the fullness of his grace he has blessed us all, giving us one blessing after another (John 1:16).” I’ll have my mind clear to see the truth of who God is and how faithful He has been to me. Then I will be free to truly give thanks.