More than 15 years ago, in a dark season, I made myself start a Thanks Journal. At the end of every day, I’d list at least one thing that I was thankful for, or one way in which I’d felt God’s presence. Sometimes I’d have to sit for awhile before I could think of what to write, which of course says more about me than about God, but other days the list was long.
That daily discipline shaped me profoundly. It was a way to name the goodness that surrounded me. It was a way to fight darkness with light. It was a way to defy the voices that said everything’s wrong and bad and terrible and futile. Some seasons were darker than others, but I could always find goodness and joy and reminders of God’s presence when I looked for it.
Over a year ago, I stopped the nightly list making. I think I thought it’s kinda become second nature to me, and looking for the good is now the shape of my life, and I don’t have to write it down.
That might have been true, but then high summer came and in two nightmare weeks, a torrent of bad sad terrible heavy things hit—bam bam bam bam. Death and cancer and fostering/adoption gone awry and wicked men victimizing children and more cancer and more sudden death. One friend’s suicide was terrible but two suicides in two weeks made me start wondering if everyone is at risk, and are my people ok, and am I ok?
I cried and ranted and wrestled this summer more than I have for a long, long time. The heaviness sometimes kept me from eating or sleeping well. Sometimes I’d breathe deep and think, oh, that felt good—I’ve not breathed deep all day. I had good people to lean on, and lots of tissues, and I wrote awful poems of lament and listened to “Jesus Strong and Kind” on repeat because that was all the light I could hold: Jesus said. Jesus said. Jesus said.
Then I heard wizened teacher Jonas say that God’s favorite word is “Come.” And Jonas described Psalm 23, and how there are enemies all around, but God invites us to a table in the middle of those enemies where we can feast.
In my mind’s eye, I saw werewolves and swords and dark, snarling, evil forms circling a clearing in the forest, and in the middle of the clearing was a table heaped with goodness and a line of lit candles down its center. And me and my people were laughing and talking and singing and eating around it. And I knew that going back to my Thanks Journal habit was a way I could eat at that table.
Remember when Edmund was on the sledge with the White Witch and they came upon the Christmas party, and she saw the party as treason? She hated the feasting because it made a statement about who was really in charge, and that the thaw was coming, and it would soon be Christmas.
Intentional gratitude—feasting in the presence of enemies—never says there are no enemies, never avoids the awfulness that staggers me. It never denies the tears that simmer just under the surface, but it declares that light is stronger than darkness and Jesus says “Come.”
I don’t know how or why God sits on His big beautiful hands and lets people do atrocious, despicable things to children. I don’t understand the fragile hair’s breadth between health and illness and death. I know He weeps too, and our sorrow matters to Him.
I don’t know much more. I just know I need to sit quietly every night and list the good things heaped on the table.