I’m convinced that living with a thankful heart is the secret to contentment.
Yet how much of a secret really is it when we open our Bibles? In the often memorized verses of Philippians 4:6-7, Paul writes, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (NLT, emphasis mine). It’s easy to focus on the prayer and petition part and miss his encouragement to be thankful.
Because let’s face it: Life can give us ample reason to petition to God.
In this world, we will know hardship. The Bible talks about it, and we have experienced it. We all know the reality of “thorns” in our side, thorns that no matter how much we pray, sometimes remain and inflict pain.
I know those thorns, those challenge-me-to-my-core and all-I-can-do-is-fall-on-my-knees issues, and Paul did too.
Paul writes Philippians as a man who has known great hardship, like persecution, imprisonment and beatings. Yet he professes to be someone who has learned to be content in all circumstances. His contentment flows from a deep-seated conviction that God will never leave him and his purpose will be fulfilled through him.
This kind of man would not advocate a Pollyanna-world kind of thanksgiving. Paul is advocating thanksgiving from the trenches.
Are you in the trenches today, fellow mom? I’ve learned thanksgiving not only pleases God, but it’s beneficial to us.
Thanksgiving helps us:
These fruits of thanksgiving fall right in line with the peace Paul promises in Philippians. For really, they promote a spirit of fortitude that is not circumstantial, but grounded solely in relationship with God. What a valuable gift. And we live in a world that’s hungry for it.
Despite the burdens that will rightfully drive us to petition God, there will always be gracious blessings to see us through. I want to lift up the former and focus on the latter. I Thessalonians 5:18 states, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”
No matter what is going on around us as we approach the Thanksgiving table this year, I pray that we will come together to give thanks - not cheap thanks, but thanks from a grateful heart. May we see with new eyes our present blessings, and may we experience the contentment that comes from a quiet trust in God. I can think of no greater Thanksgiving blessing for our homes and spirit.
If you appreciated this post, don't miss my Thanksgiving post last year, The Key Difference between Surviving and Thriving.
Last week as I was watching the news feed of the atrocity unfolding in Paris, a flood of memories came back.
I remembered moving to New York City in July 2001, just two months before the 9/11 attacks. I had moved from the Midwest, where I was raised, and was already intimidated moving to the city. Shortly thereafter, I experienced firsthand a tragedy that will forever rock the nation. My country, safety, and very humanity had been violated. There was fear, panic, and loss. Then there was the smell of burning for weeks and the subsequent bomb threats and anthrax scares.
Though newly transplanted, I was part of a city that looked to piece itself back together. Some decided to leave the city for good. But the many who decided to stay needed to make sense of what they could never have imagined before. I found myself searching for new life among the ashes of fresh memories. Where could I find hope?
One way I found it is through connectedness. A city that had once felt intimidating and cold grew warmer. It banded together as neighbor helped neighbor. I volunteered at Ground Zero at St. Paul's Chapel one evening. I served the firefighters and rescue workers who were physically weary but iron-resolved. Working consecutive shift after shift, their eyes told the story. They were drawing strength from banding together, working side by side. They were drawing hope from doing what they knew best in our desperate hour. Their friendly smiles in that dark, candlelit chapel were light to me.
In the wake of the Boston Marathon, I heard something that struck me as a result. A media station was encouraging its audience to "look for the helpers" as once again the country was reeling. Mr. Rogers, the popular children's television icon, had coined that phrase as a sign of active hope in tragedy. He said, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world."
Paris, look for the helpers.
I can only imagine the pain and hopelessness, coupled with the intense brainwashing, that would provoke individuals to have committed these crimes. They themselves have been stripped of their own humanity and turned into bombs. They have then acted in ways that reflect that towards others too. When this is done in God's name, it's not only a humanitarian crisis, but a sacrilege of what is holy and assault on divine love.
As a mother of two young sons, it hasn't escaped me that the individuals who committed these crimes were likely all young men. Therefore, in addition to expressing my solidarity with the victims, in addition to empathizing from my own experience, I have to think constructively about my response as a parent. As a minister, certainly I want to steer my children toward an understanding of religion that is life-giving and life-affirming. But I also want to impress upon them a sensitively to and responsibility for their neighbors in a local and global sense.
I read a quote in the wake of the Parisian tragedy yesterday that demonstrated this aim. L.R. Knost states, "It's not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It's our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless." Looking for the helpers when we're experiencing tragedy is healing; raising children to be those helpers is our necessary task. Instead of waiting for a miracle, we can join hands with one another to act now and simultaneously plant seeds for a better tomorrow in the next generation.
We can be a miracle. And we can raise them from the ground up too.
This post was also shared on Huff Post Parents.
Thank you for the gift of a new school year with my child. Before schedules get too busy, help me to pause and appreciate the special opportunity this year of learning and friendship brings.
Thank you for my child. As I know you have chosen me to be his or her parent, I pray that you will equip my family with these blessings in particular this year:
Courage. I pray for courage for my child - not only to meet the demands of his or her chosen path, but also for strength of character.
Passion. Lord, fan my child's passions. Use me as an instrument to come alongside to dream, support, and encourage them.
Protection. I pray for protection for my child - not only from injury or harm, but from culture's pace and expectations.
Sanctuary. Lord, make our home a sanctuary. Help it not to be a place for franticness and meltdowns, but a place where we regroup, nurture, and redefine what it means to be a healthy, successful family.
Freedom. I confess there's a strong pressure to compare my family to others. I confess there's a strong pressure to people-please at the cost of added stress upon my family. Lord, direct my eyes only to You; help us to experience the freedom that brings.
Wisdom. It's humbling that you want to bless us with your wisdom, as the One who made it all. Thank you for never leaving us alone; draw me closer to you. May your wisdom be an open and available lifeline this year.
Love. Please help love to be at the core of all we are and all we do. May your love inspire my family to grow, heal, give thanks, and enjoy our blessings each day.
I place all that is precious to me in Your capable hands. Thank you in advance for being faithful.
This prayer marks the beginning of a new school year of posts! I hope this prayer encourages you as it does me. Please feel free to return to it again and again, and don't forget to visit my prayer from last year too!
What are you praying this year? I'd love to know - leave a comment!
Noelle Kirchner, M.Div., is a Presbyterian minister and mother of two boys. As they wrestle on the floor, she enjoys wrestling with her manuscripts. She writes for Huff Post Parents, the TODAY Show Parenting Team, and has been a repeat guest author at in(courage). You can find her on her blog, where she writes about faith and parenting, and on Twitter and Facebook.