This year’s theme is “The People.” Today we are exploring….

The People who are thankful

andrew s

Andrew Shaffer is the Minister to Youth and Their Families at First Baptist Dalton, GA. He is a graduate of Mississippi State, Samford and Truett Seminary. He has worked in youth ministry one way or another since 2000, and has been bitten by an otter.

My family taught me to say thank you for everything, I mean everything. I learned that automatically saying “thank you” for items or actions, large or small, even when there was no real need to say it was the embodiment of ‘giving thanks in all things’. So I’m one of those people. I also write thank you notes, and have been known to be a “you too” guy. You know, the server tells me to enjoy my meal and I instinctively respond with “thanks, you too! <Ah… yep. >” But that’s what I’m supposed to do, so I do.

Auto-thanks isn’t inherently a bad thing, as my niece learns her manners I can see the amount of consideration behind just saying please and thank you and remember how much encouragement I was given to be polite. However, simply saying “thank you” doesn’t mean I’m really thankful. Sure, it expresses appreciation, and other people tell my family about how I’m “such a nice boy”, which is nice, but over the years I’ve discovered it doesn’t have anything to do with actually being thankful.

A few years back I worked with a 9th grader, who was a typical 9th grader. He was smart, goofy, weird, snarky, and appeared not to like anything. Obviously he was one of my favorites.

One Sunday before Thanksgiving our youth took turns voicing the seasonally appropriate “what are we thankful for” shtick. When this particular youth, we’ll call him Adam, came up in the rotation I braced myself, knowing that anything could happen. Adam says “I’m really thankful for you guys, because you keep me in check, and this is a hard time of the year so you all remind me of how good I really have it.” I was floored.

Jarred by such a genuine response from a youth who competes with my own snarkiness, I thought back and realized that every time someone was missing Adam checked in on them, teacher or student, making sure they knew they were missed. Adam was always present, usually voicing his displeasure at the general circumstances yet making the best of it…while pretending like he wasn’t enjoying it.

Adam gave me a new picture of what it means to truly be thankful. Neither unrelenting optimism nor writing thank you notes; it’s bigger, deeper. I’ve encountered more people like Adam who call crappy situations what they are, but show real gratitude even when times are tough. The mindset of thankfulness pervades because it’s a GOD-given perspective.

Real gratitude affects how we see things. We more clearly understand what Paul meant about joy and thanks in all circumstances, which is very different than for all circumstances. With all that time in prison, Paul understood that things suck sometimes, but he quickly figured out offering thanks to GOD despite the situation can be a game changer. In loss we discover peace beyond comprehension through sympathetic hearts and shoulders to cry on, in desperation we become thankful for the providence of GOD in an incredible support system around us that has been there all along. When we have one of those days that make us want to hide in a blanket and watch Netflix, we can see that from moments that make it all worth it. Being thankful allows us to see same GOD we find in the darkest times as the very same who is behind us in the brightest.

Being around thankful people sort of forces the perspective in the best way possible. They provide a constant reminder of how and why we can give thanks, and end up being a big reason to do so. I’m a skeptic at heart no matter how much I embrace being thankful, and sometimes gratitude seems a bit like glitter. No, not that I hate it as a substance, but a little can go a long way and no one wants it dumped all over them. In the right situation it can make all the difference, and once it’s stuck to you it’s there forever.

I’m learning to appreciate the attitude that spawns this unrelenting optimism and, while I’ll never be that guy, I can always be a little more thankful. The fruits of the spirit that are glorious byproducts of thankfulness works their way to the surface from time to time, and it’s in those moments I see Christ more clearly in others and more often myself. And that’s something to be thankful for.