This life is imperfect and painful. Mostly, however, this life is routine and mundane. Dull. Uneventful. As we grow older, the events are often not as happy as the eventfulness of our youth. Also, our eyes are opened wide to all that can and does happen in this world. How easy it is to grow weary and cynical, how tempting to entertain away the rest of our lives. Entertainment, with its canned laughter and mindlessness. Then we don’t have to think about anything, especially our fears and uncertainties and regrets. We don’t have to make changes—we can just keep trucking along, doing what we’ve always done, whether or not it’s good or right or God’s will or working. We don’t have to consider our chronic lack of joy. As if we’re paralyzed and helpless, we can simply allow the dullness to dull us, allow life to turn us lifeless, allow the pain to not profit us, allow the banality to make us blank inside. What’s the point, really? That’s what we ask ourselves even as we slip on our dress shoes and head to the office once again.
We’re in good company, because these thoughts echo King Solomon’s, who questioned everything and tried it all too.
I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. (Eccl. 2:1–3)
After considering the point of life, he came to this conclusion: “I perceived that there is nothing better for [people] than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man” (3:12–13).
What stands out to me in Solomon’s words is that God is handing out good gifts, and these gifts are the basic, even mundane, things of life: food and drink and fulfilling work. We’re told we must make it our goal to enjoy the simplest of things, like strawberries and coffee and teaching multiplication tables to second-graders. In other words, the routine and the mundane that we rarely think much about. But they are gifts given to all people—the bread, the water, the work of our hands—and Solomon, who went around the block a time or two, says this is it. This is where beauty is found. This is where joy is found. And it’s available to all who receive it from God with grateful hearts.
If you think about it, this makes sense. These very parts of life—food, water, creation, dominion—are remnants of Eden that, although marred and groaning, recall a better time when man and woman walked with God, their joy unhindered. To receive the simplest building blocks of life—relationships, nurture and nurturing, sustenance, opportunities for cultivation, sun and rain—is to walk with God with joy unhindered.
We don’t quite believe this is enough. The rich, the social media mavens, the leisured, the pampered, the hustlers and bustlers—they don’t seem to be complaining. From the perspective of our broken-down lives, they provide our happiness goals, so we busy ourselves up, dress ourselves up, fill ourselves up, grasping and seeking and climbing up, up, up. We seek after more, more, more. We try this, try that, and when it’s not immediately to our satisfaction or a step toward what we want out of life, we’re on to something else. What beauty we’ll find when we get there—wherever the elusive there is.
This kind of living is head-down, always moving, rarely thinking kind of living. In effect, when we do this, we put on beauty blinders of busyness, distraction, and consumption and then wonder why in the world we are so prone to despair and cynicism. We’re walking among man-made concrete when our hearts were made for the small wonders of God’s creation.
Our hearts are made for thankfulness.
Thanksgiving Requires Noticing
Creation still speaks—of God and who He is and what He does and what delights Him—and one of the things it speaks is that there is a time for stillness and silence.
In the cycles and seasons of creation, loud gusts of wind flow over prairies, storms make cauldrons of waves, and cicadas cry out in summer heat. The cycles and seasons teach us that created things have volumes that can turn high and low. The ocean’s water, in the most far-flung sea, settles. The ocean’s water, pushed and prodded by hurricane winds, churns. Rain falling from storehouses in the clouds or frozen into dropping ice pellets, loud as it hits the roof, turns soft and mesmerizing when the water is formed into tiny fluttering snowflakes.