We have just celebrated Thanksgiving, the time of year we intentionally reflect on the people, events, and things that bring us joy. Like many others, I celebrated it by gathering with some of my family and eating far too much.

imagesIt’s easy to feel grateful in that situation, sitting at a table with people I love, and on the table, ready for consumption are all the results of a day of cooking: a steaming turkey surrounded by dressing, sweet potatoes with little marshmallows on top, cranberry relish, hot buttered rolls, and all the rest. And pumpkin pie cooling in the kitchen.

However, thanks is not as forthcoming when I’m faced with days of turkey sandwiches, warmed over sweet potatoes, and that crusty remnant of dressing that persists long after the pies are gone. I’m more aware of my gratitude for my family sitting around the table, all of us on our good behavior, than I am when it seems they go out of their way to annoy me or worry me with what they do or how they treat me, or ignore me.

In short, my gratitude depends on how I’m feeling. When I’m feeling good about what’s going on around me, I’m grateful. That’s easy. At other it is much harder. And sometimes, gratitude seems downright impossible.

And yet every religion teaches us that being grateful in all things is essential for a joyful life. For example, the Apostle Paul, in several of his letters, gives the instruction to the early Christian church to “rejoice always, be thankful in all circumstances.” Islam teaches us to be thankful throughout the day: for waking up from sleep, after eating our meals, drinking water, and all the tasks of the day. One’s entire life revolves around gratitude to God. Buddhist monks begin every morning with a meditation of gratitude. How do they know how the day is going to go? What if things get crappy?

Is this simply a “silver linings” theology, a “don’t worry, be happy” kind of life?

If so, here’s the rub for me. Life happens. Its unpredictable, and most of it, if we pay attention, is completely out of our control. Much of life comes with lots of drama, disappointment, tragedy, loss, unknowns galore, and lots of people I simply don’t like. Are these religious teachings suggesting we give thanks for those moments, experiences, and people as well?

I think so, and that is the focus of my entries for the next few days.

I had the privilege of preaching at the Presbyterian Church in Baird, TX this past Sunday. For the next few days I will post some thoughts that emerged from my study for that sermon.