Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-21
I went shopping with my daughter the other day, she had birthday money to spend and given that she’s only eight, someone has to supervise such things. Despite my own stint as a certifiable mall rat during my teenage years, I was not prepared to spend an hour in a store that I’m pretty sure exclusively sold sequins and plush versions of the poo emoji that smelled like strawberries and cream.
And also “vintage” style Britney Spears tee shirts. Fix it, Jesus.
We stopped at the mall on our way home for dinner. “This needs to be a quick stop,” I emphasized as we walked through the sliding glass doors into the Temple of Consumption.
“Yeah, of course,” she promised sweetly.
Eight-year-olds have no concept of time.
An hour and a half later, starving and over-stimulated we finally walked back out to the car with a new book, two shimmering necklaces and a scrunchie made of rainbow faux fur with a unicorn horn protruding from it.
She wrapped her arms firmly around my waist, “that was SO FUN! Thanks for bringing me to the mall.”
Paul instructed the Thessalonian church to rejoice in all circumstances. Trust and believe, there was no rejoicing while I stood between the shelves of sequined track pants and mini backpacks fashioned to look like unicorn llamas.
When I consider the practice of gratitude, I can get bogged down when it comes to matters like this shopping trip. How am I supposed to be honest with my feelings, stay in my integrity, and not ruin this experience for the person who is grateful and loving every second?
I think this is why the Apostle Paul stacked multiple instructions in quick succession. Typically, we chunk out “rejoice in all circumstances, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances.” These are only part of a larger picture though. Wrapped around these three oft-quoted instructions are admonitions to encourage those who are discouraged, not repay evil for evil, and to test everything.
Gratitude feels tender because it means we have to acknowledge we need one another, and I think gratitude can also feel tender because it has been presented in ways that can make us believe that in order to practice gratitude, we have to accept everything as okay.
Life is a gift indiscriminately given.
And? Everything is not always okay.
Both are true.
This is why the instructions to give thanks always and rejoice continually and pray without ceasing weren’t written to one person but to a community of people. Some days I will not be rejoicing, but if you weep with me as I weep, I can take heart in the fact that I am not alone.
Some days the invitation is to embrace the indiscriminate gifts of life with wide-eyed wonder, and some days the invitation is to be honest with ourselves and others enough to say that this does not feel like a gift right now. And I don’t need you to fix it or try to convince me otherwise, I just need you to be with.
Perhaps the most astonishing gift of all is that of presence. That through life and death and present and future we are never alone.
The trip to the mall was about spending birthday money. But it was also about being with my daughter (and four million sequins)—and that’s what mattered.
Today, be honest with yourself about both the giftedness of life and the not okayness inherent in some days. Then choose to be with people who can be with you in both of those realities. Make time to sit and talk with a friend. Go on a walk with a loved one. Call someone you’ve been meaning to catch up with. (Text them first to make sure it’s okay, it is two thousand and twenty.) Bake cookies with your niece or nephew. Be honest with your partner about something you’ve been carrying around in the back of your mind.
In the season of Lent, we look ahead to the death and resurrection of Christ. But the crucifixion is only powerful if we first hold on to the incarnation. God is with us. In life, in death, and in every moment in between. And so we, in turn, are invited to practice being with one another.