I lay awake last night, somehow exhausted and frustrated after a day of fellowship, rest, and play. I’ve been learning to intentionally take sabbath once a week, and it’s rough, inconsistent, and amazing all at the same time.
But yesterday, while the day was filled with activities that normally refresh my spirit, the gift of sabbath slipped through my fingers. Like sand that is sloppy wet, I couldn’t quite make anything out of it. In my heart, the day refused to hold the shape of refreshment, connection, and joy like I wanted it to.
Instead, questions about the future, unfinished projects, and plans for tomorrow stood like a concrete fortress in the front of my mind.
My puddling sand castle of sabbath joy was losing its shape by the minute, while the tower of anxiety seemed to grow stronger.
This past summer, my dad and husband built a dam. Just a small dam in a mountainside stream to create a more usable reservoir of water. The kids and I “helped,” watching as he carefully stacked bricks and topped it with natural stone. Bricks and rocks — good, strong materials. But over time, the force of the water would have toppled them, were it not for the concrete that essentially glued them together.
Even concrete itself is a mixture of the filler (usually sand) and a binder (cement). Mix those together with water, and you get a chemical reaction that turns it all into a paste that basically hardens into a man-made rock.
Hang in there, I’m going somewhere with this.
The difference between a melting sand castle and a skyscraper? Essentially, the binding, hardening action of concrete. My sabbath joy was missing it’s binder.
But what in the world is that binder?
This morning, when my son woke up crabby and complained about the three healthy breakfast choices I offered him, I reminded him to be thankful that he actually had food options and even a caring parent to prepare them.
Then the Spirit nudged my heart, and suddenly I got it: the binding agent of joy is thankfulness. Turns out, that lesson for my son was perhaps more for me (seriously, how many times does this happen?).
Those nice restful, worshipful, playful activities won’t stick in my heart unless I glue them on with thankfulness. Gratitude. Eucharisteo, as the gifted Anne Voskamp would say in 1,000 Gifts.
In the giving thanks I remember the good gifts. And in the remembering I treasure them. I don them like armor. I create a wall against the anxiety and the stress of tomorrow.
Thankfulness brings my soul to a settled place in the arms of a sovereign God who not only prepares a table before me, but even does so in the presence of my enemies (Psalm 23). And probably with three healthy options to boot.
Thankfulness gives strength and shape to the restoration of Sabbath, allowing me to mold its practice into a castle of joy, peace, and hope. Not a sandcastle, either, but more like the castles of true nobility that have withstood battles, freeze and thaw, and the harsh forces of time herself.
So I know we talk a lot in this season about being thankful, but perhaps overlooked is the significant connection between our gratitude and our joy. Oh, sure, we know that somewhere, maybe deep, deep down in our hearts (where?), down in our hearts (where?), down in our hearts we’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy… (please tell me you know that camp song, too), but the truth is that often joy feels flighty. Melty. Misty.
We need more than a chipper ditty to hold on to joy when the tides rush in and our lovely sandcastle is threatened by the waves. When a loved one’s breath is snatched from this life to the next; when a friend’s words wound deeply; when the fridge is empty and the wallet, too; when the plane is delayed and the wedding missed; when the rejections pile up and the dream is all but lost, can joy be held even then?
So when the Spirit, through Paul, instructs us, “In everything, give thanks,” he is giving us the binding agent for a life of joy (see 1 Thessalonians 5:18). The joy-filled life is not a nice, Christian ideal. It is our solid reality, if we can only learn to always give thanks.
With just a bit of trembling, I say yes. The joy of Christ is ours for the taking. The joy of the redeemed is our eternal song to be sung. And the joy of the bride is our extravagant reward.