Learning to keep our eyes open to God's goodness, and to invite others in when we see it
Over my life I’ve got to travel and live many different places, and one of my favourite things about this is observing other traditions, other ways of thinking about things, and other ways that people interact with one another.
Today I was reminded of two traditions I found really beautiful and challenging to prior ways of thinking. The first one I observed while living in a country in South Asia. One Sunday I was at church, and for the most part things were progressing much like any other service. We had the welcome, sang some songs, prayed, and then one of the elders came up and did announcements. Near the end of the announcements, he said, “Today after the service, we have a special treat. Two of our members" (I’m afraid I forget their names) “bought a new car this week, and in thankfulness and celebration, they’ve brought sweets for all of us to share in after the service.”
I remember the couple stood up, beaming, and I think maybe the congregation clapped, or just kind of let out miscellaneous happy and grateful sounds towards the couple, but I was simultaneously pleasantly confused and surprised. By a few things: 1) That this couple genuinely felt such thankfulness in recognizing God’s bounteous goodness by providing them with the means of buying a new car, 2) That they felt it so acutely they felt the need to outwardly express it in some way, and 3) That the first way they did this was by going to their church family to invite them into their gladness and celebration.
I soon came to learn that this sort of action wasn’t at all uncommon. Sometimes it was when a son or daughter became engaged, or maybe when someone got a new job, but in this community, people reacted to God’s blessings by immediately inviting their church family into the celebrating and passing on a blessing to them in return.
The second event this reminded me of actually happened in Germany. I have a good friend there that I’ve visited several times, and over the years I’ve gotten to know her friends and family as well. On one of my last visits, I found out it was her aunt’s birthday, but the way it was celebrated really surprised me. The tradition for birthdays (even adults) is for the person to invite all their closest friends and family over for a party, and for the birthday person to bless others with a meal and occasionally even gifts. The birthday person is celebrated and given gifts as well, but when I went it felt like it was more about the person inviting those they loved into their celebration of thankfulness for another year lived, and thankfulness for another year with all the people they loved in it.
Can you imagine a middle-aged woman here jubilantly advertising her birthday and age, making sure everyone she knows has it on their calendar? What about a couple standing up in church to tell everyone that they just bought a new car? To some of us it may seem a little silly, even a bit embarrassing, but I think we may be missing out by thinking the way we do. Sometimes making a fuss over things reminds us that they’re worth making a fuss over. I think we often forget this in a way these people haven’t. Yet it’s likely that, even if we do have the means to buy a new car now, we probably haven’t always. Or even if we have, there’s many people in the world that haven’t. And regardless of that, think of all a new car does to make our lives easier! It really is something worth being thankful for, something God didn’t need to allow us to have and yet did, and we can be glad and praise Him for it.
What about a birthday? Many of us know all too acutely that life and good health are nothing to be taken for granted, and I’m sure all of us have loved people that we wish had it longer. God is the one who gives us every breath, who sustains us, who protects us from dangers we don’t even realize exist, and the only reason we live to see each birthday is because He explicitly decreed that we would. What a thing to be thankful for and celebrate when we do reach each milestone!
Furthermore, a year on this Earth wouldn’t be nearly as rich or full without all the people that we love in it. The ones that drive us crazy but who we know will always be there for us no matter how far we fall, the ones that make us laugh and get our weird sense of humour like no one else does, the ones we can cry with and who always have good advice, the ones we get to watch grow up and the ones we get to watch grow old - all of them enrich our lives in a way no one else on this planet could, and all were hand-picked to be part of the tapestry God is weaving with our lives. They are each and every one something that deserves to be celebrated too!
Perhaps it’s a sense of embarrassment, or perhaps we’re afraid of being immodest and boastful by asking our friends and family to celebrate the good in our lives. But what a misled feeling! If we had any real power over lining up all the opportunities and circumstances in our lives that gave us the means to by a car, or any power in keeping ourselves alive on this Earth for a single day, then perhaps it would be immodest to ask our friends and family to celebrate with us. But we all know that it is God who placed us where we are in this world, who gave us the skills and family and personality and connections and opportunities that provided us with the job and money we have, and we know that it’s God who watches over us every night and makes sure we wake up again in the morning. He is the One we praise and draw one another’s eyes to by stopping to celebrate the goodness in our lives. And He is the One we miss out on praising when we don’t.
It’s been said that grumbling spirits can be contagious, but I think thankful ones can be too. Let’s stop and think today about what we can be thankful for, and when we think of something, let’s invite someone in on that thankfulness with us. God is so rich in His blessings to us all, each and every day, and if we cultivate an atmosphere of recognizing and acknowledging that, I think it will help us live in a greater confidence of His love, His sovereignty, and His goodness, even in the times when it’s harder to see.