“In all things, give thanks… ”
Those words are found in the apostle Paul’s closing to the people of Thessalonica. Some iteration of this phrase is commercialized by being placed on everything from coffee mugs to bumper stickers to offer a gentle reminder about the importance of gratitude as a state of being rather than something occasionally visited.
I’ve often wondered how the single parent working two jobs and who’s now breathing through the proverbial straw to manage the growing stack of bills feels if someone reminds them to “give thanks” — for certainly there are blessings inside this sleepless and worrisome existence. To visualize the void of gratitude in this scenario isn’t too much of a stretch for me, because miles behind me in my past that was me — young and single with growing kids, working three jobs to get by and living so deep under the oppressive water of financial pressures that I forgot what it felt like not to perpetually gasp for breath.
This phrase is actually plucked from a collection of verses that, if read in its entirety, hints to Paul’s intentions on a deeper, sacred level:
12 But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters,[c] to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; 13 esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, beloved,[d] to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. 15 See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise the words of prophets,[e] 21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil. [1 Thessalonians 5: 12-21]
Paul’s closing of this letter sits between blessings and a reminder that faith extends beyond outward displays of worship, of service and — one of the most popular versions of an outward display of faith — judgment of others. Reminiscent of the words found in Proverbs 31 describing the perfect woman that, if any woman attempted to use these verses as a benchmark for success, would never sleep in order to fill all of these roles of the “noble” woman, Paul’s closing words could feel more like an admonishment rather an encouragement.
Some Christians often reject the notion that our ancient scripture aligns with teachings offered in other world religions. For me, however, when viewed through the lens of a “state of mind” teaching — which is a common framework of many religious teachings — these words of Paul’s sit somewhere between a metta blessing (a sort of “kindness to one’s self” meditation ) or a mantra (something repeated to invoke feelings of calm and to encourage a state of presence for the moment).
Originating in Hinduism and Buddhism, the words found in a metta are intentionally designed to elevate the mind above the suffocating details of one’s life to be reminded that comfort can still be found by willingly moving toward the sacred and safe space of the Holy:
“May I be safe — May I be healthy — May I be happy — May I live with ease”
Similarly, a mantra acts as a gateway to finding a peace of mind when the world offers nothing of the sort. “Love the life you have, nothing lasts forever, no one can take your joy.”
The words contained in a metta or a mantra do not change the circumstances of the individual saying them — they will still be required to go to work to pay the bills. But when said with the intention to find connection to the Holy, the Holy arrives to remind us humans that, indeed, nothing lasts forever.
A person on their way to their second job, sitting at the stoplight and gazing upon the “in all things, give thanks … ” bumper sticker on the car in front of them might be inclined to inwardly groan and outwardly offer a less-than-kind gesture toward that sentiment.
But, what if, just before bed, the words of Paul became our prayer, our mantra or metta:
The work I do has value
May I be at peace with those around me
May no evil surround me
May I be joyful
May I be thankful, for in this moment I am breathing and alive.
Spirit is alive in me
May I hold fast to what is good.
May I only move toward thought and action that serve my highest good.
Gratitude then becomes much more than words placed on a coffee cup. Gratitude is a state of mind, a pause of breath, a place where the Holy meets us right where we are — in our exhaustion, our fear, our successes and our failures.
Gratitude is not an admonishment because you forgot to be thankful.
Gratitude is an invitation to accept comfort while you are on this sacred journey called life. For it is indeed hard, challenging and worrisome…
For this too shall pass.
Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving.