Head to toe

It’s not clear if Thomas Acquinas or St. Augustine coined the phrase, “Alleluia from head to toe” – but those words pretty much sum up a life of gratitude.

The Bible isn’t soft or silent on this topic, either. Being thankful is not an option. I give you just three of the many texts:

  • This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24
  • I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. Psalm 139:14
  • No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. I Thessalonians 5:18

And, darn it, that last one.

But okay… I’ve got a few ideas about gratitude, specifically how it is reflected in our personal, relational, and spiritual lives.

For starters, it’s not a secret: we are not always satisfied with our personal lives. Sure, not everyone wants to be front and center, name on the marquee, winning the awards, and recognized for success. But even for those content to work behind the scenes, sometimes it feels like raising the curtain or selling tickets could be done by just about anyone. We feel like what we have to offer is just so “meh.”

And sometimes I want to be a Somebody, even a little one.

In my youth, I was frequently astonished when I realized the world didn’t revolve around me – or even need me.

Unfortunately, things haven’t changed all that much. A while ago, I wrote:

it is just as easy to be a discontented adult professional. Full-disclosure: Hearing about Little Miss So-and-So’s writing or publishing success doesn’t always create a soft and warm fuzzy in my heart. And when a truly gifted creative I know, or know about, enjoys an ever-increasing audience and yet another book deal, well, I savor another chocolate Dove dot … to numb those ugly bitter and envious feelings.

That bitterness bubbles up all too often.

So I put a little bit of washi tape on the keyboard of my laptop and wrote “Edward D. Kimball” where I look when contentment fades and melancholy grows. You see, Edward Kimball had quite an influence on the growth of the Church. There are thousands? maybe millions? of people we don’t know now but who we’ll meet in Heaven because of him.

But have you ever heard of him? Kimball was an ordinary Sunday School teacher, seriously concerned about one of his less attentive and sleepy high school students. But he didn’t give up and eventually that boy, Dwight L. Moody, founded Moody Bible Institute, and its graduates have influenced people all across the world. But the story doesn’t stop there because…

  • F. B. Meyer was transformed by Moody’s passionate faith…
  • …then, moved by Meyer, J. Wilber Chapman built and bequeathed his evangelism ministry to Billy Sunday…
  • …when, inspired by Sunday, a group of strong Believers invited Mordecai Ham to conduct a citywide crusade in Charlotte, North Carolina…
  • …where a Central High School student named Billy Graham began a life of service to Jesus.

Yowzers!

Kimball’s written name reminds me that all I am is a gift from God. And I can’t help but hope that someday, here or in Heaven, I’ll meet someone who was inspired, moved, or encouraged by something I wrote, or even something I said or did – without even knowing.

I know I’ll meet Mr. Kimball and, when I do, I’ll thank him – because his name on a raggedy slip of tape reminded me time and time again Nancy, even when it’s all storm clouds and the answers come back, “No,” be content with who He made you to be.

Maybe authentic personal gratitude looks a lot like contentment.

Now, being thankful in relationships is a mixed bag because there are three kinds of people with whom we form bonds:

  1. People who love and encourage us. We call them friends.
  2. People who are close but completely different from us, and who may create a balance in critical situations. We often call these people relatives.
  3. And then there are those who don’t like us, don’t want to get to know us, and from there the description just goes downhill. For lack of a better word, we call these people our enemies.

For that first category of people, this is easy, almost natural. Love your friends, lay down your life for them, be thankful for them, their encouragement, their support, their jokes, their shared burdens, and countless other reasons to love them. Easy peasy.

It gets slightly more tricky with the “other-end-of-the-balance” people. Although it’s great that they like to stay in the kitchen while we mingle with the party guests, sometimes those opposite traits make for serious friction and hard feelings. When someone like my brother gives me his matter-of-fact statements of truth, it can make me growl or worse yet, roll my eyes and get a little snarky.

But then again, his counterpart to me when our mom entered the end stages of life that were difficult and messy was welcome. She would call and say she wanted “out of here” (the nursing home), and I’d panic and freeze, afraid I couldn’t fix the unfixable. I would review all the reasons she couldn’t move in with me or Steve. I crafted words to skirt the issue. I cried and felt like a horrible daughter.

Then Steve would say, “Mom, we are all going to have to make the best of this. We’ll come and see you as often as we can.”

And she answered, “I know.” Done. Whew, thank you, Steve.

Unfortunately, we can’t ignore, “Love your enemies.” As in Matthew 5, where Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Author and speaker Bob Goff thinks that people are the bee’s knees, whether they love him, balance him, or call him “the enemy” finds the most unusual ways to show that love. And even he struggles with this passage:

I’ve found it’s a lot easier to agree with Jesus than to do what he says. The command to love our enemies is a good example. The truth is, I don’t want to love mine. My enemies are creepy. They’re mean and uncaring. They’re selfish and full of pride. Some try to hurt little kids.”

Bob Goff, Everybody Always, p. 192

But Jesus doesn’t give us a pass. He didn’t come for just those who look like us or have our brand of a relatively bland sinful nature or live in a country of wealth and prosperity. He did it for everybody. He loves everybody.

The sun and the rain fall on the good and the evil, on the just and the unjust.

As odd as it seems, loving the enemy – loving my enemy – those who seem to be against everything I hold dear – could be the very best opportunity I have to become more like Jesus.

Maybe real relational gratitude looks a lot like love.

And for the last one, spiritual gratitude goes beyond giving thanks for our many blessings.

In Philippians 4, Paul tells us, Don’t be pulled in different directions or worried about a thing. Be saturated in prayer throughout each day, offering your faith-filled requests before God with overflowing gratitude.

We are expected to make faith-filled requests and thank God in advance for whatever His answer may be. Whatever it may be.

He alone can see what’s coming when we can’t. And as we walk in faith, unaware of the future but resting on His promise, we find ourselves becoming more and more grateful for His presence and love. More grateful for His answers, even when they turn out to be something far different than that for which we asked. More grateful because we know about Him right now, even when we know nothing about what’s ahead.

Oh give thanks to the Lord,
for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!
1 Chron 16:34

If we have faith in such a loving and generous Father, how can we not be thankful as well?

Maybe true spiritual gratitude looks a lot like faith.

George Herbert, 17th-century British poet, encourages readers toward that goal in his poem, Gratefulness. The first line says “Thou that hast given so much to me, give one thing more: a grateful heart.”

But I like the last stanza even better…  

Not thankful, when it pleaseth me;
As if thy blessings had spare days:
But such a heart, whose pulse may be
Thy praise.

Blogger Victoria Emily Jones paraphrased that last stanza so clearly…

“I beg you, please. I won’t shut up until you give me a thankful heart—and I don’t mean thankful only once in a while, as if your blessings were sparse and thankfulness, therefore, only sparsely needed. I mean give me a heart that pulses, every beat, with praise of you.”

Poem analysis: “Gratefulness” by George Herbert

Alleluia from head to toe.

And with that, my lovelies, and a thankful heart, I pray for you

Photo by Terricks Noah on Unsplash

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