Ann Voskamp has coined a phrase that has struck home with me in my secret place, that of the ugly beautiful. She writes in One Thousand Gifts about finding God in moments, discovering what He has created, highlighted, and finding that He is completely present, recording these as gifts. We find it easy to record the beauty we see, when a meeting goes well, when a child excels – the things that win our approval.
But what if those moments are ones that shear your soul, piercing you to the heart of who you are? What if things created turn on you to destroy or deprive? What if those moments are ugly? Can’t we question them? We see the beauty around us, can spirit-hear the star’s voices declaring God’s praise, and simultaneously feel robbed by knowledge that there is suffering, knowledge that there is not enough.
They both change us – the ugly and the beautiful. The beauty confirming our faith, and the ugly making us question that same faith, making our hearts feel like fragile broken pieces. God is not afraid of our questions. And yet we still hear the instruction to give thanks.
By giving thanks in all things, we invite God into our story, into our moment. Giving thanks for the hard things is a surrender, an opening of a clenched fist, a laying out the open hand to the One who is above all. Only when surrendered to Him, the hard and ugly and painful become life changing. He is the Changer, Restorer, Healer.
Seeing God’s created beauty and raising our voice in thanks to Him ushers us into Heaven’s choir room, the ultimate cathedral where the song is within and without, and where we get to own and steward a part of praise to Him, a part that is ours alone to sing…and the Father enjoys our delight that we have seen and received His love in the beauty around us, that we are returning it back in love to Him. And He witnesses our journey as we witness each other and help someone else learn to see.
And when the pathway is dark…“Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God.” (Isaiah 50:10) Even in the dark, because we have seen the beauty, and we have seen Him rescue us, heal us, and do the same for others, we find we can trust…or at best, learn to trust. But when everything is crashing down, pines that snap in hurricanes, when we seem to walk through a lifetime of ugly…what then? It is the same:
Pray continually,give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. (1 Thess. 5:17-19)
In refusing to give thanks for the hard, I am quenching the Spirit of God, refusing Him entrance into my circumstance. This giving of thanks is not conjured up or force-chosen for the things we like or approve of. There must be more or He wouldn’t say to offer it.
In giving thanks, we are not giving approval for the suffering, the hard. We are admitting our need of Him and open up as receivers of His presence which brings comfort, wisdom, intervention, blessing. Giving thanks recognizes our smallness and need, and God’s largeness as Creator-King-Father. It is turning to Him no matter what. It’s not a feeling, but more a state of mind, a decision, a relationship. Giving thanks makes room for His involvement in my life. I find I am changed as I see Him even in the smallest of things, as I allow Him into my beautiful and my ugly.
Donald Miller, in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, writes “I’ve wondered if one of the reasons we fail to acknowledge the brilliance of life is because we don’t want the responsibility inherent in the acknowledgment. We don’t want to move and breathe and face conflict with courage. And if life isn’t remarkable, then we don’t have to do any of that; we can be unwilling victims rather than grateful participants.”
Father, help me to face the beautiful and the ugly knowing You are present. I invite you into my story, the whole of my life. Help me face it all with courage, adventure, and confidence, even if I walk shaking in my boots, because this life is worth it, it is brilliance, and Your value has given value to my story. Thank you, Jesus. Fill me, Holy Spirit, to live. Amen.
(c) Robin Lawrimore, September 2012