Living Thanks

Buenos dias! It’s another beautiful morning in the land of lakes and volcanoes.

As I considered what to write about this morning, the first thing that came to mind was Thanksgiving, the late November holiday in the United States. After spending the first thirty years of my life living in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, it seems a little strange to be writing about Thanksgiving in eighty degree weather. At the same time, it is a great reminder that the idea of giving thanks shouldn’t be reserved for one day a year. As I write this, I also recognize that this is something we commonly say every year as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday. I think we all know, somewhere inside of us, that it is important to be thankful for what we have and the things that have been done for us. We could easily, as we probably do around the last Thursday of November, write out or recite a list of all that for which we are thankful. After saying thank you, either out loud or in our heads, we check off the box, grab a slice of turkey and sit down to watch hours of football, or maybe that’s just me. In the end, however, are we really all that thankful or are we just going through the motions to avoid being called ungrateful? Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying; I am not saying I think it is wrong to single out one day a year to corporately and intentionally celebrate our thankfulness.  Instead, I am saying that this celebration should be the culmination of the way we live on a daily basis. 

Living in Nicaragua has certainly changed my perspective on what I have to be thankful for and what is necessary to be thankful.  Over the past eight months, I have experienced firsthand the choices people are required to make when living in extreme poverty.  The frustration and anxiety people feel when their child is sick, but they are unable to take them to a health professional that can give them an accurate diagnosis and treatment, and to feed them at the same time.  Having to live day-to-day, hoping that you can provide your family with the basic necessities this month.  For many people in Nicaragua, this is not possible.  If it is possible, many people are one unexpected expense away from falling off the “cliff”.  This is a reality I have never known and hope to never know personally.  One of the most interesting observations I have found is that there are people who live in these circumstances, but are incredibly thankful for their lives and the things they have been given.  As you would expect, there are also many people who live in despair and resentment about what they haven’t been given.  You are probably expecting me to write that I have now discovered how blessed I am and live everyday thankful and content.  In reality, this is not true.  Even now, living in a place where my financial wellbeing is blatantly obvious, I still, at times, find myself feeling as if someone owes me something, much like the people I described earlier.  So, what does that say about living thankfully day in and day out?  Maybe it has little to do with how little, or how much, we have.

In Luke 6:43-46, Jesus says, “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.  Each tree is recognized by its own fruit.  People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers.  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.  For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (NIV 1984).  I believe the only way to live thankfully is to begin to have thankfulness be true of us at the heart level.  I believe this starts with understanding our need for Christ and his payment for our sins.  Then, I believe we need to begin to ask God to begin to change our heart.  Next, I believe we need to start living it out by being generous with everything that God has given us, including our time, resources and gifts.  As Jesus said in Matthew 10, when we begin to give our lives away, we find real life.  While it may seem counterintuitive, living our lives with “open hands” will actually begin to infuse thankfulness inside our hearts.  Suddenly, life will be less about what we have and more about what God has given us the opportunity to do.  It will take time, but I believe God will begin to change the act of giving thanks from something we do out of obligation to a part of who we truly are.

My hope this year is that Thanksgiving will be a launching point to living out of a thankful heart instead of a once a year holiday to act like I am thankful.  What will it be for you?

-James Belt

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