It is a difficult concept to grasp – the idea of being thankful in all things.
Ask any group of people what they are thankful FOR and the lists are even predictable. There isn’t a lot of variance. People tend to be thankful for family, friends, good health, food and shelter. There may be a few other items listed but they are all positive. It is why I am no longer in favor of the unmitigated exercise of people listing what they are thankful for. It continues to imply thank being thankful and the good things in life are linked. That is a half-truth and the easiest and most misleading half of the truth at that.
When scripture tells us to rejoice in all things and be thankful in all things, all means all (no footnotes). Being thankful for good things is easy. Once you get out an entitlement mode that you are certainly good enough to deserve them and move into a gift mode where these come from God, gratitude is a lot easier – almost naturally linked. But if all means all, then we are to be just as thankful in the rough spots as the smooth.
Gratitude in the Christian tradition is deeper than the moment – deeper than the current state of our lives. Gratitude is grounded in Jesus – the Jesus who went to the cross to show us the depth and commitment of God’s love. In Luther’s theology of the cross, the irony of God’s work and love is that God is most revealed beneath the very place where it appears God is least involved. Christian gratitude isn’t just in the good things (although it is there), it is also (especially) in the bad.
For this to work, a sacramental view of life lies at the core of who we are and what we teach. Are you celebrating something wonderful and rejoicing? Give thanks for the God we encounter in Jesus is there with you. Are you grieving a deep loss or struggling with an immense problem? Give thanks, for you are not alone. The God who went to the cross is there with you offering love and support as you journey through this season.
Christian gratitude is not limited to things we are thankful FOR. It is grounded at a way of life that sees God with us IN everything – always working toward life, love and the kingdom of God. Whether in good times or bad, God is still working. It is that which we can be thankful for, no matter what is going on at the moment.