The Bible encourages us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to “give thanks in all circumstances,” and it sounds righteous and spiritual, but we all tend to add our own caveats and conditions – I’ll be thankful when ________. Gratitude is not exactly our default mode. We may find it hard to be pleased– especially under stressful circumstances – just because we’re supposed to – because someone in Scripture suggested it. After all, we reason, St. Paul had a personal and dramatic encounter with the risen Lord. It was easy for him to be thankful. But he was also, by his own account, whipped, beaten with rods, jailed, shipwrecked, and stoned – and not from good wine, but with real rocks. Was he naturally optimistic, a glass-half-full kinda guy? Maybe. More likely, the Holy Spirit was so ingrained in his soul and in his life that gratitude was his default mode.
How do we mere mortals give thanks, no matter what? Paul doesn’t leave us unmoored; rather, his method is revealed in Philippians 4, and not in our beloved and oft-quoted verse 13, where we’re doing all things through Christ who strengthens us, but in the previous verse:
I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need…
St. Paul didn’t have a secret. He learned it. We experience, we remember, we try, we fail, we consider, and we practice, practice – and then we learn. And while we may not be susceptible to someone else’s prescription for joy, we are extremely receptive to our own self-talk. With our minds set on gratitude and our eyes fixed on Jesus, Thanksgiving can be more than just a day in November. We can learn to make it a lifestyle.