Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:15–21)
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18)
Give thanks for EVERYTHING? In ALL circumstances? Surely, I must have read that wrong. Are we really supposed to be grateful for everything?
I mean . . . sure . . . gratitude is easy when we feel that we are sitting in the lap of God’s blessing. It’s easy when life seems to be going our way. It’s easy when things are relatively smooth and worries are few. It’s easy when folks are on our side and we feel the support of community and family. But . . .
What about when things aren’t going our way?
…when the way isn’t easy?
…when a parent dies unexpectedly?
…when a friend betrays you?
…when you lose a job that you really love?
…when a spouse is diagnosed with a terminal disease?
…when a child gets cancer?
…when wars break out and innocent people die?
What about drought and famine and all it casualties?
What about the teen who gets killed by a drunk driver?
What about the times when we feel like we are under water and about to drown?
It amazes me how the scripture often speaks with such clarity, anticipating my reactions and excuses. For instance, when bad things usually happen in my own life, I want to run away from them. I want to avoid them. I want to numb the pain.
In the passage above, it mentions, “do not get drunk on wine.” When you boil it down, aren’t all addictions merely a way to numb the reality of our circumstances (both good and bad)? Drugs, alcohol, food, gambling, sex, the list could go on and on. At the heart of all addictive behavior is a kind of avoidance . . . a running away. In active addiction, the addict doesn’t understand (or care about) the concept of contentment. What is “enough” anyway? Answer: Just one more.
You see, addiction is inherently selfish. The addict is focused on my wants, my needs, my feelings, my hurts, my pain, my struggle. Many addicts don’t intend to be selfish. They may be very kind and generous people. The addiction, however, is insatiable. There is never enough. Why have one drink when I could have a half-dozen? Why have six when I could have twelve? I just need enough to numb the pain and not have to feel anymore.
Maybe, just maybe, the counter-action for addiction really is gratitude. As researcher and psychology professor Dr. Robert Emmons defines it, true gratitude has two basic components: (1) a belief that good does exist in our world and (2) the conviction that the source of that goodness exists outside of us. True gratitude focuses our attention outward, away from ourselves, towards the other, towards the good, towards the blessings that we already have.
True gratitude (and sobriety) helps us to receive what is instead of running away, numbing, or avoiding. True gratitude keeps us focused on the present. In shame, we struggle to let go of the past. In fear, we agonize over the future. In gratitude, we receive the present as a gift.
Could it be that we are called, not to give thanks FOR every situation, but IN every situation? Truly, there are some things that truly are bad . . . harmful . . . destructive . . . dare I say, evil. We don’t always have control over all the circumstances in our life. However, we can remember the truth of God’s word. As God said to Joshua, “I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5). Therefore, while we may not give thanks for every situation, we can give thanks in every situation . . . for we know that we don’t face it alone.