The Hardest Thanks (On Being Broken Bread)
It was “Takk for Alt” this Sunday at our little country church. That’s Norwegian for “Thanks for Everything.” It’s long been the tradition at our 125-year-old church — where gray-haired farmers and glad grandmothers share pews with diapered princes and their mamas. Every November, before Thanksgiving, we celebrate Takk for Alt with a Sunday meal.
But before the food, we feast on Word and Sacrament.
And I stood, trembling in the pulpit, always nervous to share what’s on my heart in front of a crowd. But Pastor said I should, right after the passing of the peace. So I stood there, reading from a post-it note — just a few short words I’d written on my blog the night before, about what it might mean to be thankful in ALL things–
“In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
~ 1 Thessalonians 5:18
“Be thankful in ALL things. All Things,” I read from my notes, with my voice and hands trembling. “That’s what the Bible says. ALL things. Not just the smiling things and the wished-for things. The Bible says be thankful in all things. Even the hard things, the grotesque things, the things never-wanted, the things of death and grief and pain and sorrow that make you wonder if you can stand to live another day. How to be thankful like that? Is it really possible for a mortal to be thankful in all things? The Bible doesn’t tell us to be thankful FOR all things. But He absolutely tells us to be thankful IN all things. I want to be able to do that — just as Christ did when he lifted the bread, broke it and gave thanks, saying, ‘This is my body, given for you.”
I stepped down and walked back to my seat by the sound board.
The night before, I had written some of those words here, on the blog, so that I might believe them life-deep. Any sermon I preach in this place, this blog, is really — at its core — a self-sermon to my trembling self. I want to live the words I tap out into this space.
I want to believe them, in my veins.
And I want to believe that Takk for Alt is real. I want to have the ability to give thanks in all things. We celebrate it year after year, this thankfulness for everything.
But what if Takk for Alt was only a nice catch-phrase, a reason to share a catered meal as a church family? And what if Thanksgiving Day was just an excuse to eat turkey and Mom’s stuffing, then take a trytophan-induced nap in front of the television after the dishes were washed? What if Thursday was just another day off, conveniently timed to set up the Christmas tree and find the ceramic nativity in a cardboard box somewhere down by the furnace?
And this: When we say we will give thanks, do we really only mean the good things? Or, like our Savior on the night He was betrayed, could we really give thanks in all things, every single day?
Later, after Pastor’s sermon, we ate the catered meal. Around the fellowship hall, I mentally catalogued my gratitude. This is the easy part of Takk for Alt. There was much to count here. I watched how people leaned into one another, laughing. And how Rosie brought over more coffee. And I got teary when someone said they’d been praying for my daughter’s ear. I smiled, watching two friends — like real sisters — sharing one pumpkin dessert. This is the sort of thing you do at family tables. And I was thankful that we were like family.
But what of the other, harder half of Takk for Alt?
After the tables were cleared, we headed over to the sanctuary for our annual meeting. We discussed our budget, and several new mission projects, and it was exciting. Again, more easy-thanksgiving.
But it wasn’t until the meeting was nearly adjourned when the fullness of the “everything” in Takk for Alt would come to pass. It wasn’t planned by any of us. It just … happened.
Before the meeting adjourned, a woman in the back row raised her voice above the crowd: “I want to tell you how much it meant to me,” she said, “when you gave us a ‘love gift’ of money after the fire. And how you’ve welcomed us here in this church.”
And so began a series of spontaneous praise — a thank offering of the hardest things.
An elderly couple raised their voices next, expressing thanks to God when a fire destroyed buildings on their farm, flames coming within inches of the house. Much was lost, but they were grateful for what was spared.
Another woman found a reason to give thanks, even in her time of mourning.
And on and on it went, people expressing Takk for Alt, not on the mountaintop, but deep in their very own valleys.
I witnessed it right there under that country steeple in our tiny house of God, out between the stubbled fields of Iowa. I witnessed Christ coming alive in our thanks — Him lifting the bread, saying “this is my body.” And we were His body, broken and thankful, laying down our Takk for Alt saucer under a full cup of praise.
“Perhaps it takes a purer faith to praise God for unrealized blessings than for those we once enjoyed or those we enjoy now.”
~ A.W. Tozer
“Gratitude is the memory of the heart; therefore forget not to say often, I have all I ever enjoyed.”
~ Lydia Maria Child
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.'”
~ Matthew 26:26
Take your pick …
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Some call them coincidences. We call them God-incidences. And those goosebumps you get sometimes when you know the Holy Spirit is at work? Yep. They’re God-Bumps.
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so easy to say – so hard to act out in those hard times.
im grateful for your words today Jen.
just as i am grateful my internet connection dropped for several hours yesterday and the alone time i got with my wife as a result.
I agree. I can read the words in the Bible and nod my head yes in agreement. I can sing it in the sanctuary. But can I live the Takk for Alt in my daily life? Thus, this story. This wrestling. Thank you for being here.
The scripture I shared in today’s post is 1 Thessalonians 5:18 too! So true isn’t it that when life is less than ideal this verse becomes challenging. Happy Thanksgiving Jennifer! Blessings to you and your family 🙂
Hey Danise … I’m eager to read your words. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too, sweet sister.
Giving thanks in the hard things, that’s the test of faith, the stretching of belief that all things really are for our ultimate good. What a wonderful tradition your church has and I know God used your words to bring hope to those present. Happy Thanksgiving!
Happy Thanksgiving, Christina! … My words felt so small. The real power, I think, came through the testimony of these men and women long after the service was over, drawn to their feet by the Holy Spirit, and sharing from the depths of their own pain. Thanks for being here.
Sister, yes! I’ve been living broken, and I though it was a one time thing. What I’ve learned (both painfully and joyfully) is that we don’t break once. We offer ourselves continually, as living sacrifices. So, coming to the realization that I had to be broken again to go deeper, to learn something new both about myself and about the Will of God meant only that I am on my way. I am not done. I’m growing again. I’m broken again. Brokenness is the point at which I meet God. AGAIN. It hurts, but I am thankful. Grateful and refreshed, as I was when I read your words.
Thanksgiving blessings to you and yours.
Peace and good in Jesus’ name.
Chelle — I can SO relate. AMEN!
“… we don’t break once.”
Yes. That can feel frightening, but for the grace of God piecing us together into a mosaic. Thank you for being here. And happy Thanksgiving to you, Chelle… xo
You’ve given me much to think about as we prepare to spend most of the day in the car, driving. Thank you for that. I’ll be thinking about the hard, and saying thanks. It is quite therapeutic, when I get brave enough to do it. Also, I get this: “a self-sermon to my trembling self.” That’s what blogs are, really. I’m grateful for you space and how you do that. Happy Thanksgiving.
You know these self-sermons, right? I am always amazed at what sinks in to my very own soul when I listen and write. I do hope that the words mean something to others, too, of course. It’s a joy to share our joys and sorrows and questions in community. Happy Thanksgiving, Courtney.
Dear Jennifer — thanks for this site and opportunity to share with others how God bumps up against all the time with His lavish snippets of love.
Yet Takk for Alt is easier said than done sometimes but at Longings End we are learning, one day at a time.
PS My husband and I recently drove to UTAH to visit my sons and I passed through IOWA for the first time. LOVED the rolling hills and farmlands and the outdoor art park in Des Moines.
HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL!
Yes, Sheila. Easier said than done for sure. My words at the beginning of the service were “said.” They were felt, for sure, but they were “said.” The spontaneous words at the end of the annual meeting were the “done” part. I was in awe of their bursts of praise and thanksgiving, learned in the trenches.
So glad you enjoyed our Iowa!
Happy Thanksgiving, Sheila!
What a beautiful service to witness…people giving thanks in their deep valleys!
I love how you showed Jesus giving thanks for His broken body. I’d never thought of it quite that way, but it is so true!
Thank you, for sharing, Jennifer!
It was beautiful, Joe. And to know the depths of their pain? Even more so. We have such a small church, so we know a lot of each other’s hurts and pains.
Some of the people that spoke, though, were fairly new members. So that was an encouragement to us as well.
Happy Thanksgiving to you, Joe.
Oh that last part is making me cry… so beautiful!
Hi Kelly. Me, too. 🙂 I cried, too. Happy Thanksgiving to you, dear sister. xo
You and Sandra Heska King are singing from the same hymnal this week. I said to her yesterday that, although I can often find things for which to be grateful in the midst of hard things, its difficult to be grateful for the hard thing itself.
Someone I love is walking through some really dark days, and it is painful to watch. I just want the hard part to be over–the chrysalis to split wide open and the butterfly to emerge. Yet within that struggle I have seen evidence of genuine faith in Jesus Christ. I’m not sure I would have seen that without the struggle.
Happy Thanksgiving, Jennifer. I’m grateful for you.
It is very difficult indeed. I do think there’s a distinction, though. I don’t know that we’re being called to be thankful FOR it, but IN it. And it might not look happy-clappy,that’s for sure, but might be more of an inner health of the soul. It might be our very own selves crying out to ourselves and to God, “I still love You, Lord. You are still good. You are still God despite my circumstances. You are still Savior despite my pain. And I thank you, even while I’m in it.”
Totally awesome. I know it sounds cliche, but I wrote about almost the exact same thing. Same verse. Same focus on the preposition IN as opposed to FOR.
Same beautiful, loving God.
Thankful for your remarkable wisdom, my friend… Here’s to year-round thankgivings, even through the hard stuff.
Takk for Alt…Thanks for Everything…I needed to read this post today. What a lovely church, it sounds like, that you are a part of. And yes, what we write is first written to ourselves, I agree. Blessings to you.
We give thanks here because he has been merciful to us, even now.
Jennifer…yes…writing is writing truths down upon our own hearts first… Give thanks in all things…Rejoice in the Lord always…I am thankful these are not impossible commands…but possibilities to give us the full live…and it makes me think…be faithful in the small…we will be faithful in the big…we can practice…build our thankful muscles in the small …hard things…the little interruptions…annoyances…hurts…and than we will have stronger “thankful muscles” for the big hard thanks~
Praying for Lydia’s news…and I pray this is one of the many things you are thankful for this Thanksgiving~blessings to you~
This is a God-incidence for sure — both our posts center on the same verse! Thanks for the beautiful post & for hosting, & have a blessed Thanksgiving!
I’m norwegian..and I never knew about that phrase! I think as farmer’s you have to learn how to give thanks for it all. You see blessing and famine so close to each other. They’re cousins at your place. That’s why I want to come work there.
Thanks for the language lesson 🙂
Jesus’ body was broken for our healing, by his stripes we are healed. Thank you for reminding us that we are broken too, but Jesus is the healer.
oh, the giving thanks in the hard things shows we have tasted His goodness, the goodness of His presence in the midst, and it is especially sweet in the pain…Thanks, Jennifer, for your words, and a blessed Thanksgiving to you and yours 🙂
Hi Jennifer…Happy Thanksgiving!
This was beautiful, especially the words of the sharing in your church community! Now that is real fellowship. It’s not the clappy-happy times, but the realities of life here on this sod that draw us close to one another. We can all understand the sufferings that take place in life, and empathize, in love, with one another. And help one another where we can.
I saw it on Wednesday night when I had dinner with a friend who is going through an incredibly rough time. She learned how to be thankful from Ann Voskamp, and that night, she updated her list with me. I tell you, I could not have done that were I in her shoes.
This had me longing for a small community church – the knowing and being known, through thankfulness in all things. (I know -it’s not always this perfect…I’m not that naive but this a very lovely picture of the Body in fellowship.)