Chapter One: Thanksgiving and Praise
Getting Real with God
The other day I was working on an article for a Christian newspaper. The topic was about hospitality and as such, I was interviewing the Executive Director for a Christian organization that provides a safe retreat for women who are struggling with addiction, abuse, or other emotional traumas. While the whole conversation was wonderful, one particular thing she said stuck out to me: the call to be authentic. Before these women could heal they had to be real. Real with themselves, real with those around them, and most importantly, real with God.
They had to get angry with him for what they went through and for what they were going through. They had to wrestle with these thoughts and these emotions with God and with others.
It reminded me of something I read in a book as a teenager about prayer about how we should never use a negative thought in prayer because only positive thoughts get results, and I wondered how many of the young women that enter into that wellness centre’s doors heard the same thing growing up.
“Fake it ‘til you make it.”
“Attitudes are more important than facts.”
“Just be happy.”
“Nobody really cares if you’re miserable, so you might as well be happy.”
“If you smile, you’ll trick your brain into thinking you’re happy.”
But the thing that these platitudes all ignore is that we can’t always be happy. And it is totally okay to be sad, to be angry, to be hurt. We don’t need to be perfect before we enter into his temple. We aren’t called to be happy.
The psalms and psalmists defy those beliefs. David wasn’t perfect. But he was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). David wasn’t always happy. Psalm 86, which is one of the psalms he wrote, is a psalm of lament. In fact, the majority of psalms are laments.
But, we are called to be thankful no matter what is going on around us (1 Thessalonians 5:18; Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 2:7, 3:15, 4:2; Philippians 4:6).
Unfortunately, being called to do something doesn’t make it easier. However, we can turn to the Psalms once again for help in this regard, because even in the midst of David’s lament he finds things to be thankful for: God forgives (5), loves (5), answers (7), delivers (13) and is compassionate (15). And if those truths don’t reach you where you are Psalms of Thanksgiving like Psalm 103 list a whole bunch more reasons to thank God.
Praising God in the Midst of Our Misery
I was probably in grade 3 or 4 when my older sister came and got me from my classroom. Our great-great-aunt was lost in the woods. We conferred in the hallway for a moment and decided that we wouldn’t tell our younger brother about Tenta Cor’s disappearance. He was too young to cope with the knowledge and it would distract him from school. We’d wait until we were home.
She wasn’t found by the end of the school day. My parents, frantic and in tears were heading out to join the search after making sure we had some supper. But I wasn’t quite ready for them to go yet. There was something I needed my mom’s help to do before they left. I needed her to play “God is in Control” by Twila Paris on the piano. I wanted to sing and remind myself that no matter what happened, Tenta Cor was in God’s hands. He knew where she was and he was keeping watch over her.
I don’t remember if my mom played the song for me. But I do know I sang it. Over and over again as I went to bed in the still quieter-than-it-should-be house.
My childhood desire to remember God’s greatness in a moment of great fear is a reflection of the desire of the psalmists when they wrote the different Psalms of Lament. These poems of hurt, confusion, and despair follow a basic format. The singer addresses the Lord, states the nature of their complaint, affirms their trust in the Lord, cries out for deliverance from the aforementioned issue, proclaims their assurance that God will deliver them, and they praise God for his past, present or future blessings. Even when David was running for his life or dying from illness, in the midst of his suffering and lament he would “sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me” (Psalm 13:6).
As Adele Ahlberg Calhoun points out, “Thanksgiving is possible not because everything goes perfectly but because God is present. The Spirit of God is within us—nearer to us than our own breath. It is a discipline to choose to stitch our days together with the thread of gratitude. But the decision to do so is guaranteed to stitch us closer to God.” (Spiritual Disciplines 30)