Every week in the month of November we will be featuring an article on cultivating gratitude and thankfulness. To see the full series, click HERE.
“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NLT).
It was “Takk for Alt” at our little country church in rural Iowa.
“Takk for alt” is Norwegian for “thanks for everything,” and this has long been the tradition at our 125-year-old church, where gray-haired farmers share pews with diapered babies and their mamas. Every November, around Thanksgiving, we celebrate the annual tradition with a Sunday meal.
But before the catered dinner, we always feast on Word and Sacrament.
So there we were, packed into our small sanctuary. And there I was, trembling at the pulpit to deliver a few words. Our pastor had asked if I would share something I had recently written about gratitude.
So I stood there, nervously reading from a Post-it Note, about what it might mean to be thankful in all things.
“Be thankful in all things. All Things,” I read from my notes. “That’s what the Bible says. All things. Not just the smiling things and the wished-for things. The Bible says be thankful in all things. Even the hard things, the grotesque things, the things never-wanted, the things of death and grief and pain and sorrow that make you wonder if you can stand to live another day. How to be thankful like that? Is it really possible for a mortal to be thankful in all things? ‘In everything give thanks,’ Paul wrote. He didn’t say to be thankful for all things. But he absolutely said to be thankful in all things. I want to be able to do that—just as Christ did when He lifted the bread, broke it, and gave thanks, saying, ‘This is my body, given for you.’”
I stepped down and walked back to my seat.
The night before, I had written those words on my blog so that I might believe them heart-deep. Any sermon I ever “preach” on my blog, is really—at its core—a self-sermon to my trembling, stumbling self.
I want to live the words I write, not only with my pen, but with my whole being.
And I wanted to believe that Takk for Alt is real. I wanted to possess the ability to give thanks in all things.
Sure, we celebrate Takk for Alt year after year, this thankfulness for everything.
But what if Takk for Alt were only a nice catch-phrase, a reason to share a catered meal as a church family? And what if Thanksgiving Day were just an excuse to eat turkey and Mom’s stuffing before taking a tryptophan-induced nap in front of the television? What if Thanksgiving were merely another day off, conveniently timed to set up the Christmas tree and find the ceramic nativity set in a cardboard box somewhere down by the furnace?
When we say we give thanks, do we really mean we give thanks only for good things? Or, like our Savior on the night He was betrayed, could we really give thanks in all things, every single day?
Later during the Takk for Alt celebration, after the pastor’s sermon, we ate our catered meal. Around the fellowship hall, I mentally catalogued my gratitude. This is the easy part of Takk for Alt. There were many blessings to count. I watched how people leaned into one another, laughing. Rosie brought over more coffee. Someone said they’d been praying for my ill daughter, a kindness that brought me to tears. I smiled, watching two friends—like real sisters—sharing one pumpkin dessert. This is the sort of thing you do at family tables. And I was thankful that we were like family.
But what about the other, harder half of Takk for Alt?
After the tables were cleared, we headed over to the sanctuary for our annual meeting. We discussed several new mission projects, and that was exciting. Again, more easy-thanksgiving.
But it wasn’t until the meeting was nearly adjourned that we saw the fullness of “everything” in Takk for Alt come to pass. It wasn’t planned by any of us. It just . . . happened.
Before the meeting adjourned, a woman in the back row stood up. Her wobbly voice rose above the crowd: “I want to tell you how much it meant to me,” she said, “when you gave us a ‘love gift’ of money after the fire. And how you’ve welcomed us here in this church.”
And so began a series of spontaneous praises, thank offerings in the hardest things—proof that we can give thanks in all things.
An elderly couple raised their voices next, expressing thanks to God, even though a fire destroyed buildings on their farm, flames coming within inches of their house. Much was lost, but they were grateful for what was spared.
Another woman stood up, giving thanks for all the people who had comforted her in her time of mourning.
And on and on it went, people expressing Takk for Alt, not from the mountaintop, but from deep within their very own valleys.
Last year, I wrote a book called The Happiness Dare. While writing it, I realized anew how happiness and gratitude are tightly wound around each other. In fact, gratitude is the parent of happiness. Here are four life-changing things I learned, as quoted in The Happiness Dare:
1. On your best day, gratitude reminds you that your gifts are not your own. And on your worst day, gratitude reminds you that you are not alone.
2. Gratitude is acknowledging the goodness in our lives as life exists today, not as we wish it to be.
3. It is impossible for us to be happy and ungrateful at the same time.
4. Gratitude is the strong foundation on which our ultimate happiness is built.
Those four truths are more than good theories. That year during Takk for Alt, I witnessed those truths come alive, right there under that country steeple in our tiny house of God, between the harvested fields of Iowa. I witnessed Christ coming alive in our thanks—His lifting the bread, saying, “This is my body.” And we were His body, broken and thankful, laying down our Takk for Alt saucer beneath a full cup of praise.
by Jennifer Dukes Lee, author of The Happiness Dare
Would you like to be happier?
No matter who you are or how you feel, chances are you would answer yes. And Jennifer Dukes Lee was no different. For years, she wrestled with a constant nagging sense that she wasn’t as happy as she could be. At the same time, she felt guilty for wanting something so “shallow.” After all, doesn’t God only care that we find joy in our circumstances? Or is it possible that God really does want us to be happy?
Determined to get answers, Jennifer embarked on a quest to find out whether our happiness matters to God and, if so, how to pursue it in a way that pleases him.