We get busy. We get distracted. We get overwhelmed. And we forget to celebrate the blessings of life. The blessings don’t stop coming just because we forget. Indeed, it is my firm conviction that we live abundant lives in an abundant world. The bounteous gifts of God are beyond measure or comprehension. But all too often we forget to notice. And in so doing our experience of life is diminished. Our experience of God is diminished. It’s a bit like starving in a room full of gourmet food because we were too busy or too distracted to look around and notice that the feast was there. Remembering to celebrate keeps us in touch with the fullness of life and helps us integrate the blessings into our living.
Later this month we in this country will celebrate Thanksgiving. It is a holiday which stands in a long, rich line of traditions designed to assist us in remembering to devote some of our energy on a regular basis to the business of celebrating. People around the world and down through the centuries have understood the importance of “counting their blessings.” When we remember to express our gratitude we are more likely to approach the rest of our living with the kind of energy it takes to meet whatever challenges might come our way. And it puts us in a better position to live out our values of generosity and compassion. In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy there is a passage about offering first fruits and tithes. At its heart it is a message about gratitude and celebration. The people are not simply commanded to celebrate. They are also reminded that it is vital for any such celebrations to include “the Levites and the aliens” who live among them. In other words, be intentional about including those who have no other means of support, and those most at risk of being marginalized and excluded. For a celebration to be complete it must be inclusive rather than exclusive.
Occasionally I hear about folks who worry that celebrating will distract us from the important and serious matters which face us. “Life is full of hardship and danger and we don’t have time for luxuries like celebration.” I believe we cannot afford not to celebrate. The challenges of life are very real. Of course we need to address the serious issues of our time – issues like hunger and disease, violence and oppression, poverty and injustice. And such issues are far too important to face with a depleted spirit. Those who would seek to devote all their time and energy to such issues, with no attention to rest and renewal and celebration, run the very real risk of burning out long before the task is completed and the challenge is met. Life is not a sprint. It is a marathon. We are in it for the long haul. And we need nourishment and refreshment along the way. Our souls are fed when we pay attention to the blessings which surround us. Celebrating helps us sustain the courage and the strength and the inspiration to face all of life, including the challenges. During the days and weeks and months following my late wife’s death the practice of gratitude played a central and significant role in bringing me through the darkness and restoring me to the light.
When we remember to celebrate and give thanks, not just once a year on the fourth Thursday in November, but regularly and often, in big and little ways, we remind ourselves that we are not alone, and there is much in this life worth devoting time and energy to preserving and restoring and healing and saving. When we remember to celebrate and give thanks we revitalize our awareness of the connection between ourselves and Sacred Presence, and between ourselves and each other. Such renewed connections serve as an important resource in the ongoing task of living faithfully. We do not have to do it alone. Indeed, we cannot. When we remember to celebrate and give thanks we lift our eyes and behold possibilities we would otherwise miss. When we remember to celebrate and give thanks life just works better.
“Rejoice in God always!” the Apostle Paul writes to the Philippians. I invite you to get in touch with what is real and true in every moment of every day. Pay attention to all of ways in which your life is filled with abundance. Celebrate and give thanks. In a couple of weeks, when you gather with family and friends, around tables big or small, filled with all manner of foods designed to delight your senses, take time to pause and reflect on your life and all of the places and occasions where you find evidence of blessings. And I invite you to resolve to make such a practice a regular and ongoing part of your living. Once a year is not nearly often enough. Your experience of life will be enhanced, and the world will be enriched by your grateful living.
Roger Lynn is the pastor at Plymouth Congregational Church, which is affiliated with the United Church of Christ.