It was the calm after the storm … or so I thought. I was sitting in the recliner, both children finally asleep in my lap. I was scrolling through Facebook on my phone and noticed my blog about our son’s recent bout with the stomach virus had been posted just a few hours earlier. “Fine timing,” I thought, as I chuckled to myself.
I read back through my writing just to make sure everything “sounded OK.” Then it hit me. The words I had so boldly and confidently typed a few days prior hit me hard. Little did I know how often those words would come to mind over the next three days and how I would be challenged to apply them correctly to my own life.
The life lesson started late one night when my husband John decided that we needed to pack our belongings and head to my parents’ house for the night. The weather forecast was predicting ice, and if enough accumulated we could lose power and heat. With no way to stay warm, he decided we should play it safe and head to my parents’ house since they had a fireplace.
We began scrambling around gathering clothes and toiletries and, of course, all the baby necessities – diapers, wipes, bottles, baby food, sterilizer, burp cloths, bibs, the list goes on and on. Needless to say, packing for a baby, even for just a night, is no small task. Then, when the packing process awakens the sleeping baby who starts screaming continuously, it only makes packing ten times harder. Not to mention the four-year-old who is running around the house overwhelmed with excitement about a late-night visit to NeNe and Granddaddy’s.
We were almost ready to go, when John came to a stand still. He looked at me. I looked at him, and there was no denying it. The stomach bug, the same one that bit our son only a few days prior, had bitten John. The impending ice storm was now a secondary concern, and the impromptu slumber party was cancelled.
In shock, I stood frozen for a split second as I watched John fall to his knees in the bathroom. I didn’t know what to do. There was one of me and three of them: a sick husband, a screaming baby on my hip and a disappointed four-year-old whose sin nature was more than manifesting itself at the moment.
I put our crying baby on the floor, ignored the temper tantrum, moved the packed bags off the bed, got John a cold washcloth and helped him into bed.
Then I turned off the lights, hugged both children in my lap, took a seat in the recliner and began to rock. The crying stopped; their eyes closed, and there was silence.
That’s when the Scripture I quoted in my recent blog post started glaring at me from the screen of my phone: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Not exactly what I wanted to see at the moment. I sort of dismissed the truth I knew I needed to be applying, put both children in bed, attempted to regroup and went about my nightly chores while caring for John.
I was washing and sterilizing bottles when I heard a horrible sound coming from our daughter’s room. I ran in there, and my heart sank. She, too, now had the stomach virus.
And I really did feel helpless when it came to caring for an 8-month-old with the stomach virus.
I will spare you the details, but it was another long night, to say the least. And the next day proved to the even longer after the stomach bug decided to bite me that morning. We were all so sick and miserable, and as the caretaker, I felt helpless.
At one point, I lay facedown on the floor worn out and in pain. That’s when those verses in 1 Thessalonians flashed across my mind again. “Really, God? I’m supposed to give thanks in these circumstances? Why? How?”
Although my situation was tough not tragic, I still needed a better understanding of these verses.
A sermon by Dr. Ligon Duncan, Chancellor/CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary and the John E. Richards Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, provided me with great insight and offered clear answers to my questions. (You should listen to the sermon or read it in its entirety because the following are just highlights.)
Why should I give thanks? It’s part of God’s grand design.
How can I give thanks? Only in Christ Jesus
While our first round of the stomach virus left me grateful for many things, this time I’m learning to be thankful in all things. There is a difference. First Thessalonians 5:18 commands, “in everything give thanks” or “give thanks in all circumstances.”
According to Duncan, “[t]his direction is far more than a sentimental expression of some sort of moralism that Pauls wants us to inculcate in life. This is a profoundly difficult thing that Paul is asking us to do.”
He uses Helen Keller as an example. She became blind and mute as a toddler and lived until her late 80s – in darkness and in silence. Yet her testimony resonates gratitude.
“For three things I thank God every day of my life. Thanks that He has vouchsafed me knowledge of His works; deep thanks that He has set in my darkness the light of faith; deepest thanks that I have another life to look forward to – a life joyous with light and flowers and heavenly song.”
Duncan points out that Keller may not have been thankful for her circumstances but she was obviously thankful in them because her gratitude was rooted in the finished work of Christ.
“His grand conspiracy, in the work of redemption, is to enlarge our hearts, and to show the world what humanity was intended to be in the first place,” Duncan explains. “And the very first thing humanity ought to have been in the view of the greatness of the Creator's gift to us, was thankful.”
To paraphrase Duncan: such thankfulness only comes from personally knowing the One who is capable of making our hearts grateful. When we have tasted and seen that He, alone, is good, we can rest in His grace and with real reason say thank you … in health and in sickness, in life and in death, in good and in bad.