Let me be honest- I am decidedely fed up of lockdown. The way to get me muttering under my breath (or sometimes out loud) at the moment is to get somebody on TV telling us how essential it is to prolong restrictions even beyond the time when the vulnerable have been vaccinated. Lockdown is dehumanizing and needs to be seen as a last resort rather than on ongoing policy.
Yet moaning about it doesn’t actually achieve a huge amount. And I do have to face this uncomfortable reality- in the history of the human race, this is relatively small fry by way of discomfort. I am currently reading a biography of the German Christian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Thus far I am only up to his experience living through the loss of a brother in World War One and the hyper-inflation of the Weimar Republic which reduced a country to poverty and food shortages. You probably know- there is worse to come.
Which leads us to the discipline of thanksgiving for what we do have. Last week I preached on Psalm 42-43. It felt like a Psalm (for it surely was originally one psalm) for our times. The Psalmist is unable to gather with the festive throng in the temple- many of us today feel the agony of being unable to gather as a church or not being particularly festive if we can. The result is that his soul is downcast. I guess we can empathise with that. One friend spoke to me of the downward drag that he contantly feels on his mood at the moment.
But the great refrain of the Psalm is an attempt to overcome that: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.”
We noted the Psalmist doesn’t simply allow himself to feel downcast. Rather he speaks back to his own thoughts- calling himself to be re-directed towards God. But how do we that? Here is something that was in my sermon notes that I forgot to say (which always annoys me!): we need to pursue the discipline of thanksgiving. Or in the language of the Psalm- we need to choose to praise our Saviour and our God.
In more normal times, thanksgiving can sometimes happen reasonably spontaneously. You have a good Sunday service, an enjoyable catch up with friends, a lovely coastal walk and you begin to feel thankful. Perhaps it is then natural to direct that towards the Lord in praise.
But, at the moment, there is very little that gives an unbidden sense of thanksgiving. Life is dull and monochrome. So this is the period when we need to do what the Bible calls us to anyway (perhaps because the Bible expects life to be hard). We need to obey the command: “Be thankful”
We’ll probably need to do it in an ordered way, coming before the Lord and ask ourselves the question- “What can I be thankful for?” Now in the deepest of emotional distresses that may be very hard to answer. But in the milder form where we are just a bit down it should be possible to start the list. Most of us do have food and shelter. We do have people who care for us- even if they can only contact us virtually at the moment. We do have peace such that we can get on with our lives. We do have technology that- for all its limits- has taken the edge off things. Many of us can look back and see tough times we have come through before. Above all else we have a Lord who is with us and who does love us deeply. He has also guaranteed us a wonderful future. And I’m sure you can add to the list- and it would be helpful to do so.
My experience of doing this (not nearly as often as I might) is that it starts as a fairly dry experience- a discipline that I am forcing myself to practice. And yet if I stick at it I often find joy working its way to the surface. As a result I use the following line fairly consistently in conversations- thanksgiving is the path to joy.
I desperately want this time to end. But it would be good if I could also learn lessons for life in the midst of it. So here is one thing I am trying to hold on to. Don’t wait until you feel thankful because it might not happen in a lockdown. Instead choose to practise thanksgiving.