The Word of God

Thanksgiving Chaos of Unpredictable Joy

little skier with helmet and goggles

I know, I know. So many Christmas decorations appeared looming in most stores even before the pumpkins and ghosts arrived– and yes, even before the poor turkey was running for its life. However, have no fear or trepidation, nor any real despair about these assaults on our budgets and nerves because, quite frankly, there is something marvelous happening here: it is all about the deep and endearing love God has for all of us as He reaches into our souls to stir the memories and joys of childhood, even if they were marred or torched, because in fact, you and I were created for joy and celebration. We ponder and present today the possibility how Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas can still touch our deepest being with the vocation we all have to joy. This is because we are not human beings who have, to varying degrees depending on our situations and places in life, spiritual experiences, rather, we are, as Pierre de Chardin wrote, “spiritual beings who have human experiences.”

Hopefully the next couple of weeks will usher in more good memories and create new ones. Where there is fullness of life, joy will naturally overflow. After a certain point, the two concepts of “life” and “joy” naturally blur into each other and the fulfilled person is the one who cannot tell the difference between them. Our focal point for our attitudes and strengths will have to come from the Lord. Wherever we turn we find that Jesus “answers” all the unrelenting hostility around him, mainly from the Pharisees, by offering them and us yet parable after parable. The fact that Jesus replies with parables to the attacks coming at him from all sides and to the unspoken murderous thoughts seething against him is a most incisive commentary on the sort of person Jesus is and on how he intends to fulfill his mission. 

If most every one of our readers has close friends and relatives, then that same number of us have also had many, if not uncountable, opportunities to forgive and ask forgiveness. That is just the human situation which none of us can escape. What does the Lord teach us as we near the Thanksgiving table, the Advent wreath and the Christmas tree? Jesus never retaliates in kind. Every new insult and rejection seems only to stimulate his creativity and desire to persuade. And it is not just any parable he shares with the world, but stories that soar high above the turmoil of base human passions and appeal to our deepest instinct for happiness and thirst for joy. As we move forward toward the end of the year, which, as we all know very well will arrive before we know it, let us consider this time of giving thanks as a rich time of fulfillment and the invitation to joyful living. Consider this amazing opportunity of real grace in real time: 

It was the usual situation of a high school teacher trying to get across to her class a very difficult new math concept. Each day the more she tried, the more plainly students were becoming not only more frustrated, but quite edgy. Sensing a high degree of anxiety one Friday, the teacher said, “Look, put away your books. Everybody take out a piece of paper and list each of the other students’ names on that paper, and write something nice about each one.” 

So that’s what they did for the entire class. She collected the papers, went home, and over the weekend she listed the names of all the students and all of the nice things that people had to say about them. On Monday morning, she gave the papers out to each one. And immediately the tenor of the class changed. She even overheard one of the pupils whisper to another that “I never knew that anybody thought anything nice about me.” And so they were able to progress. 

The years went by, students came and went, and eventually they had one of those necessary class reunions. When they gathered around Helen, their old teacher, one of the fellows opened up his wallet and pulled out a ragged piece of paper that obviously had been folded and refolded many times. Immediately, Helen recognized it as the list she had given to this young man and the others many, many years ago. Another student told her how she had kept that list in her bedroom dresser drawer all these years. Another volunteered that she had this list pasted in her wedding album. Another young pulled out his wallet and showed that he, too, had carried his all this time. 

The teacher was quite overwhelmed to think that a minor gesture to settle down a class many, many years ago had meant this much to these students. Someone had said something nice about them, and during the years when they were feeling low they would pull out this piece of paper and remember that they were of value, that they mattered, and that there was something good in their life.  

Helen never realized that she was planting a small seed; she certainly was not intending a grand gesture. But it was a situation that Jesus would appreciate and say, “The Kingdom of God is like this.” It is a place where the chaos of the holidays and the seemingly endless parade of deadlines and wish lists keep creating a continual stream of consciousness. We must find the joy both in the chaos and in a total acceptance of joy as our vocation, even in the pressure-filled days yet to come—especially in these days beginning today by making these thoughts as part of our “core beliefs.” 

When we believe in something negative or pessimistic so strongly, we tend to look for evidence to support those core beliefs. Unfortunately, when this happens, we see the world through heavily-filtered goggles. In the process, we collect evidence that supports our (usually negative) core beliefs, and fail to recognize any evidence that could contradict these beliefs. We often collect this evidence from people. So ensues the vicious, self-serving, self-fulfilling prophecy cycle, and we now see the world through the eyes of our core beliefs. But just think of the opportunities and possibilities if our core beliefs included the acceptance and adherence to the simple truth that I have been called to a full life full of joy and that every single day of my life I can and will find evidence to support that? The joy and peace in life would be totally and wonderfully unpredictable. We could and should call this the quintessential “abundant life.”

Start your engines.

Find joy in everything you choose to do. Every job, relationship, home, everything! It’s your responsibility to love it or change it.  ~Chuck Palahniuk

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