This article challenges Christians that we may be doing the right thing in the wrong way. As we do it grumblingly, we are missing the essence of how to do it. We follow God’s requirements – but, while doing them, miss one of the biggest: thankfulness. [There’s another side to this, of course – the temptation not to address things that are wrong in our context – a gratitude that just leaves everything as it is, bad though it be.]
There’s a parallel that springs to my mind. I love the dry-humour young magician Kyle Eschen. In his TED talk on cognitive blindspots he talks about our psychological tendency to sometimes (often?) focus on the wrong thing. This is an essential feature that enables magic tricks.
In Trevin Wax’s article Complaining Never Wins the Culture, Trevin uses the story of God’s people grumbling in the wilderness after being freed from Egypt as a model for how we can be in our Christian walk. So the challenge, for us, is to live with gratitude in our wilderness, to be thankful in the desert.
Many here will know my passion for the desert, both the physical and metaphorical deserts. So, since reading Trevin’s article, I have been searching for examples of gratitude and thanksgiving within the desert tradition we live with. If you can present any in the comments, that would be great.
The one that immediately sprung to mind was the story (one of the few told in all four Gospels) of Jesus miraculously feeding. We have this story in six ways: Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:31-44; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:1-14; Matthew 15:32-39; and Mark 8:1-9.
This was in a desert (ἔρημον) place [ἔρημον erēmos – from which we also get our word “hermit”]. This desert is mentioned in Mark 6:31, 32, 35; Matthew 16:13, 15; Luke 9:12; Matthew 15:33; Mark 8:4. And Jesus gives thanks (εὐχαριστήσας eucharisteō – from which we also get our word “eucharist”) in Mark 8:6; John 6:11.
This reflection fits with my stressing an approach to life of service and gratitude. [I have changed the sites tagline to reflect this].
As well as looking for places in the Bible where thanksgiving and gratitude occurs in the desert, I’m also looking for stories and sayings of thanksgiving and gratitude from the Desert Fathers and Mothers.
This will be an ongoing search. Here are some starters:
Abba Copres said, ‘blessed is he who bears affliction with thankfulness.’
Abba Euprepius said, “Bodily things are compounded of matter. He who loves the world loves occasions of falling. Therefore if we happen to lose something, we must accept this with joy and gratitude, realizing that we have been set free from care.”
Nilus said, “Do not be always wanting everything to turn out as you think it should, but rather as God pleases, then you will be undisturbed and thankful in your prayer.”
Poemen said, ‘Suppose there are three men living together. One lives a good life in stillness, the second is ill but gives thanks to God, the third serves the needs of others with sincerity. These three men are alike, it is as if they were all doing the same work.’
As he was dying, Abba Benjamin said to his sons, “If you observe the following, you can be saved, ‘Be joyful at all times, pray without ceasing and give thanks for all things.’”
Finally, a more contemporary Desert Father, St. Paisios of Mt. Athos says:
Grumbling is caused by misery and it can be put aside by doxology (giving praise). Grumbling begets grumbling and doxology begets doxology. when someone doesn’t grumble over a problem troubling him, but rather praises God, then the devil gets frustrated and goes off to someone else who grumbles, in order to cause everything to go even worse for him. You see, the more one grumbles, the more one falls into ruin.
Sometimes the devil deceives us and makes us unable to be pleased with anything; however, one can celebrate all things in a spiritual manner, with doxology, and secure God’s constant blessing.
It would be great if you could add to these reflections in the comments.