By Teresa Sayles, Children Curriculum Specialist
Woodland Hills Church
A couple of years ago, a woman named Ann Voskamp wrote a book, One Thousand Gifts. Reading it had an amazing effect on my heart and mind. At one point, she writes about wanting to visit a friend in Paris, but flying on an airplane was a terrifying thought for her (something with which I sympathize). Yet, because she had been practicing for months the daily art of eucharisteo or thanksgiving, she was able to not only step onto the plane and endure the flight, but she actually enjoyed it. She was able to feel God’s love in a new and exciting way as she thanked Him for the world she saw tens of thousands of feet below. She writes that it’s impossible to be fearful when you are being thankful, and it’s true. If you’re thankful, you are recognizing the gifts of the moment and growing in your trust of the One who has given them. With such thankfulness, fear dissipates and can even vanish. You have seen what He has done in the past, something of what He is doing now, and know what He can and will do in the future.
We live in an uncertain, broken, and often frightening world. The events of the past week have proven that. Fear overtakes our hearts and produces anxiety, mistrust, and even anger and hatred. But to allow fear to rule one’s heart is not living in a state of thanksgiving. Rather, God calls us to move beyond fear to trust, trust in His love, and that trust should lead us toward gratitude and thanksgiving. But it’s not easy, as the Israelites discovered long ago.
Moses had led them out of Egypt. A fiery cloud literally showed the people God was with them as He led them over the unknown desert terrain. And yet, as they stood on the brink of the land God had promised to give them, they were terrified. 10 out of the 12 spies sent into Canaan had returned with reports of warrior giants that could never be defeated. Only Moses, Caleb, and Joshua stood in a place of trusting God. Only they could see the pillar of cloud before them and, remembering all He had already done for them, say that even warrior giants were no match for the Creator of the Universe. The rest of the Israelites cowered in fear and refused to move a step further. Some even wanted to return to Egypt. Return to slavery. Return to misery and death. It seemed better than trusting the “unknown” and “certain doom” that lay before them. But had they taken a moment to remember what God had done for them, had they trusted His promise and His faithfulness, they would have realized the God who parted the Red Sea and freed them from the clutches of Pharaoh himself could and would care for them in this new land. On the other hand, Caleb and Joshua had seen what the other spies had seen, and yet, they trusted God above whatever fear they might have felt. They chose to take Him at His word and believe it with all their hearts. They remembered His faithfulness and set their lives in His hands without hesitation.
The mistrust of the Israelites ultimately led to their wandering in the desert for 40 long, trying years. Caleb and Joshua, faithful in their trust and obedience, were the only ones allowed to enter this new land from the previous generation. They alone had shown themselves to be the kind of trusting followers God asks us all to be.
No doubt as we sit around the table with friends and family this Thanksgiving, our thoughts and conversations will turn in some way to the tragic events of the past week. We cannot deny our world has a lot of darkness in it. But the Light of Christ is more powerful than any darkness, and that, alone, is something for which we can be eternally grateful. That Light overpowering the darkness is made up of the incredible love of God, and it’s a love that drives out fear. So I encourage you to take time to truly recognize what you have to be thankful for this year. Talk about it with your kids. Help them to see how building on a mindset of thanksgiving and trust in God’s love can help them live a less fearful life and a more full life. How trusting in God’s love can help us trust others in a world that tells us to stay closed off and trust no one. Choose as a family to live each day like it’s Thanksgiving and continually remind each other what you have to be grateful for, especially in times of worry or fear. Fear is a powerful thing, but a truly grateful heart will beat it every time.