Saturday, November 23, 2013

What if You're Not Feeling #soblessed?

Ugh. Why are all of these people thankful for such happy things?

This uncharitable sentiment is brought to you by…well, me. It was my first instinct as I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed this month and saw an explosion of thanks-giving. My second instinct was to be deeply ashamed that I grumbled about heartwarming posts about “the LOVE of my LIFE,” the ones marked cheerily with “#soblessed.”

Pinterest has a lot of happy, thankful people (who make pretty memes).

And another part of me felt a little smug that I was not at the point of publicly gushing a list of wonderful things about my life to social media. Because sad is happy for deep people.

So I started writing a response to those Facebook posts:

There are some very happy things that I’m thankful for. I’m thankful for the smell of something cooking in my Crockpot when I come back to my apartment. I’m thankful for that feeling that settles over you when you sing old hymns and they still mean something. I’m thankful for crunch fall leaves, wonderful co-workers, good books, hearing little kids laugh, friends who care about me, people with British accents reading audiobooks, discovering I actually like oatmeal, and all the other blessings that it’s okay to put on Facebook.

But there are other things I’m thankful for.

I am thankful for weakness—from the ache of fragility during fasting to tiny risks of being honest with others.

I am thankful for uncertainty, especially the kind that comes with humility about something bigger than me.

I am thankful for fear of inadequacy, because it’s a nice change from pride.

I am thankful for silence, for the focus it provides and for the way it jerks the approval of others completely out of your possible motivations for doing something.

I am thankful even for silence from God, and I’m not quite sure why yet, except that if God always did what I demanded and responded when I wanted, he wouldn’t be much of a god.

I am thankful for goodbyes and the way they hurt, for mail that can’t turn into hugs, for conversations that won’t happen anymore, for long-distance friendships that aren’t the same, because they are broken things that point to a reality where brokenness won’t exist.

If someone told you that faith was pretending everything is fine, they were wrong.

Faith is saying that everything would have been all right, if we hadn’t messed it up. But we did.

And faith is saying that everything will be all right again someday. But not always when we want it to be. And sometimes not even during this life.

Faith is the final scrap of Job’s theology, the words Joshua and Caleb said at the last of their friend’s funeral, the midnight prayers whispered by the enslaved Israelites in the generation before Moses showed up. It is the “yet” in the psalmist’s defiant cry “I will yet praise him” and the “if” in Martha’s weary statement “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Faith is hard. Thanksgiving—the act, not the holiday—is sometimes hard. And that’s the way it’s going to be for now, though not for always.

Great. And now, I present…

My Response To Myself

Um…yes, this is actually a rebuttal of the first half of this post. That’s why I usually write these a week ahead of time; so I have time to realize I disagree with myself.

I still agree with most of what I wrote above, in the idea of a brave faith and the fact that sometimes being thankful when life is hard—and being able to say that God is good even when life is hard—can be a beautiful act of worship. Those last four paragraphs…totally on board with that.

But I worry that my argument might be taken too far. That maybe thanking God in all circumstances is different than thanking him for those circumstances. It’s “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” not “YAY! I walk through the valley of the shadow of death!” and I don’t think it’s a good idea theologically to confuse those two.

Be a Heretic Monday, most likely.
 In my examples, the distinction isn’t that important. It’s not going to change my theology much if I say we should thank God for loneliness and the opportunity it provides us to grow. But if I carry that logic on, I’ll start saying that rape victims should thank God for assault, that the people whose lives were destroyed by the typhoon should be grateful for the storm, that targets of genocide and oppression should raise hands in praise, not for the God who is still just in spite of evil, but in praise of evil itself.

I don’t want to say that. Ever.

You can't write this postscript, I told myself. It will diminish the rhetorical power of the first part. Anyway, it's not that important. (Sidenote: when your argument pits "rhetorical power" against "theological tenability," you know you've gone off the cliff of nerd-dom. And that's without the earlier reference to Dr. Who.)

But I told those voices to shut up. Because what we as Christians think and say about evil is important. Like, really important. Taking one extreme to fight another makes for an extremely engaging and share-able post, but in this case, it wouldn't be honest.

So, instead, I will say that I am thankful for the God who is good when we are not. As an act of faith, I will be thankful for the growth that comes through broken things…but I refuse to be thankful for the broken things themselves.


  1. Amy,

    This was an excellent distinction to make, and one that really helped me today, as I am going through a difficult season and I find myself struggling with what it means to rejoice in all circumstances. Thank you for acknowledging the dark truth that life, even if we have God, doesn't leave us happy all the time. The things that are broken are too big for us to fix, and it's all right for us to notice that and to be saddened by it. Even during Thanksgiving. Still, "yet" is a powerful word. Well put, Amy.


    1. Thanks so much, Kathryn. If I didn't have the hope that someday there wouldn't be broken things, I'm not sure how I'd cope.