A Word of Grace – November 22, 2010

Dear Friends:

There is certainly every reason to desire such a gathering and to work to make it happen. At the heart of the Thanksgiving holiday is a celebration of the blessings of community and grace.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because of the thought behind it. If there is “thanks” to be given then it admits to someone larger and more gracious who is responsible for my life and those I love. Gratitude is the ultimate confession of our need for God. Giving thanks is the primary obedience that he seeks from his children.

Jesus told us that we will live with him, held fast in his love and the love of the Father, if we keep his commandments (Jn 15:10).  There is no better way to do this than to “engage in the perpetual dialogue of gratitude” (Ellen Vaughn, Radical Gratitude [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005], p. 26).

In point of fact, being grateful is not optional in the life of the believer. Do you wonder what God’s will is for your life? Well, it starts with being thankful.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing; give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess 5:16-18).

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:15-17).

Yet, I know that the Thanksgiving holiday can be the most difficult of times because for many, too many, the promise of love and the thoughts of gratitude are shadowed by heart-sickening deferrals of hope and the assorted injuries of soul and spirit that result from human inadequacy to bear the weight of human expectations.

Research studies show that incidents of domestic violence increase between 22-30% during the week before and the week after Thanksgiving.  Doing a Google search for “family holiday dysfunction” yielded me 105,000 items in 0.12 seconds and a search for “Thanksgiving domestic violence” found 689,000 items in 0.27 seconds.

The effort to achieve perfection even for one day can  stretch emotions and relationships to the breaking point. As one article dryly puts it, “Being in such close quarters with your family under the pressure to cook a great feast can cause stress.”

Even “gratitude” can fail us at such a moment. It is easy for parents, spouses, children, lovers and friends to slip into a kind of legalistic “Be grateful or else!” mentality that says “I’ve done my very best for you, can’t you at least show some appreciation?” Martha’s complaint echoes through the season, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?”

Jesus’ reply cuts to the heart of thankfulness. He says her name twice to call Martha out of her distressed self-absorption, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part which will not be taken away from her” (Lk 10:40-42). The “better part” is relationship rather than performance. In simple terms, Jesus is saying, “You are more likely to remember the conversation than the pie. So please sit down, ‘take a load off,’and let’s talk.”

“That’s a nice sentiment, Kent, but someone needs to prepare the meal, set the table, and clean-up. Who is going to do it then?” This is the common response of multi-tasking Marthas (Lk 11:40). Jesus, however, doesn’t offer alternatives to Martha when it comes to need. He says, “There is need of only one thing.” That one necessary thing is the communication essential to relationship.

I can imagine based on experience that Martha might have a come-back to Jesus: “But Lord, preparing a delicious meal is the way that I show my love to my family and guests.” Right here lies the fault line between pride and thankfulness.

In the incident that introduced the concept of “sin” into Scripture, Abel and Cain were both called to worship. Abel gratefully gave the “firstling of his flock’, his best and fattest lamb as a sacrifice to the Lord–“the best part”– which the Lord accepted. Cain gave what he wanted to give, an assortment of fruits and vegetables from his garden and the Lord didn’t accept it as suitable worship.

Cain was angered that the performance that he chose to do wasn’t accepted by the Lord and he murdered Abel in jealousy that his sacrifice was accepted (Gen 4:1-16). The point being that doing what we want to do even with the most noble and self-sacrificing of intentions isn’t worship. Worship is adoration of the Lord in total devotion, not a competition to gain his attention. A person grateful to the Lord gives the best of their time and attention to him in adoring gratitude.

We are commanded to thankfulness in all circumstances precisely because thankfulness isn’t conditional. This is why Paul could say that whether he lived or died, Christ would be exalted, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain” (Phil 1:20-21). It is the essence of Salvation that though our world may be destroyed and our mortal life end, we are secure in Christ for eternity. The faith that results in that future of necessity refines our thinking as to whom we are grateful for life (1 Cor 15:10, 17).

Jesus makes this easier for us by drawing our attention to ordinary things like growing mustard in the garden and leavening bread-dough with yeast as similes for the kingdom of God (Lk 13:18-21). If he is looking for life and growth in the simple and ordinary things, what does that say when our expectations for success and acceptance hinge on elaborate effort and production? And do we not fuel our disappointments when we practice “big-event” gratitude, hinging all our hopes on an extraordinary day/gathering/meal?

“All-circumstances thanksgiving” does not have a capital “T.” It means being grateful every day and almost all of our days are ordinary. Gratitude is in Jesus’ metaphor of the tiny mustard seed that can grow into a sheltering tree to protect against the squalls and adverse winds of an ordinary day. Gratitude is in the leaven that can raise the flat and tasteless into something edible and filling. This can happen any time, not just the fourth Thursday in November. It can even happen on a hot Thursday in June.

Washington, D.C is a 102 degree outdoor sauna when I finish a business meeting at noon to return to California. Luggage in tow, I cross the city on the Metro to Reagan National Airport. There, I clear security, only to find the flight is delayed. The sweaty, anxious crowd is pressed up to the gate waiting to board. Standing there, my arthritic left knee begins to ache fiercely and my right knee locks and stiffens.

Finally, I hobble aboard and take my aisle seat. A well-dressed Hispanic lady is already seated in the window seat. I had watched her taken aboard in a wheel chair. She possesses a mature serenity, although I can’t tell her age. She is reading a book, but looks up and smiles at me when I sit down.

I follow my ritual of pulling out my i Pod and headphones, putting my book in the seat pocket, and shoving my backpack under the seat ahead of me. Then I buckle up and wait for the boarding to end and take-off to occur.

Even though the attendants keep making announcements that the flight is full, no one arrives to take the middle seat in the row. I look at the lady and say, “Maybe we will luck out here.” She smiles and moves her eyes in the direction of the front of the plane and back. I hold my thumb up and she does the same and goes back to reading.

The run of passengers slows and then the main door to the cabin is locked. We are left with the luxury of the open seat between us. I grin and tell the lady, “We made it.” I hold out my hand and she shakes it with a smile.

As we take off, I stretch my painful knees out, close my eyes and enter the presence of the Father through the doorway of prayer to have a chat. When I open my eyes, I look over and I see her with eyes closed, lips moving in a silent prayer.

She reopens her book. I am absorbed in my music and reading.

The attendants come down the aisle with the beverage cart. One of them asks me what I want and I gratefully reply, “Water, please.”

She turns and asks the lady, “What would you like to drink?”

The reply comes in Spanish. The attendant asks again firmly, “What do you want?”

The lady says, “Espanol. No habla Ingles.”

The attendant is not having any of this. “What do you want?” she demands in a snotty, irritated tone.

I turn to the lady. I smile, cup my hand and draw it to my mouth as if drinking. Then I motion to her with open hands and just say, “You.”

She smiles a bewildered smile and says, “Soda” to the attendant.

This visibly irritates the attendant even more. “Wh-a-a-a-t  k-i-i-n-d of s-o-o-d-d-a-a d-o-o y-o-o-o-u w-a-a-a-a-n-t?” She draws the words out in an exaggerated fashion. Then she rapidly adds with an auctioneer’s cadence, “Sprite, Coke, Mr. Pibb, ginger-ale.”

I am watching the lady and see her eyes light up at the mention of “Coke.”

“Would you like a Coca-Cola? ” I ask her.

“Si,” she grins.

I look up at the attendant and tell her, “She would like a Coke, please.”

“OK!” she huffs with a grimace.

After I receive my water and the lady receives her cola, I return to my book. I feel a nudge on my arm. I look up to see the lady’s smile and a big navel orange in her hand. She holds the orange toward me.

I point to myself and ask, “For me?”


“Thank you,” I say. “Gracias.” She smiles.

I peel and share the juicy pieces with her. The juice runs into my beard a bit and the citrus fragrance fills the stuffy air around our row.

Later, I reach into my backpack and pull out a bag of cashews. I hold them out to my new friend. She smiles and holds up her thumb and index as if to say, “I’d like a few.”

I put the whole bag in her hand and gesture toward her with a smile. “Gracias,” she says with a grin. She takes the cashews and slips them in her handbag.

We soon go our way when the flight lands in Dallas, but out of the whole weary journey my communion with the gracious senora is what I will remember best–travelers of different gender, age, language and destination, sharing merciful intercession, smiles, and a cool, sweet orange in thanksgiving on a steamy, hot day of frustration.

If you brought us both together again and asked us what was the single element that made this encounter so blessed, I believe we both would tell you that it was the Father who we both thanked in silence as soon as we settled in on  the plane. I know that’s who I thanked afterwards.

Thanksgiving is, in truth, not a day. It’s our attitude of gladness toward the One who makes all else possible. “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.”

“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps 34:8).

Under the mercy of Christ,



Please note that the content and viewpoints of Mr. Hansen are his own and are not necessarily those of the C.S. Lewis Foundation. We have not edited his writing in any substantial way and have permission from him to post his content.


Kent Hansen is a Christian attorney, author and speaker. He practices corporate law and is the managing attorney of the firm of Clayson, Mann, Yaeger & Hansen in Corona, California. Kent also serves as the general counsel of Loma Linda University and Medical Center in Loma Linda, California.

Finding God’s grace revealed in the ordinary experiences of life, spiritual renewal in Christ and prayer are Kent’s passions. He has written two books, Grace at 30,000 Feet and Other Unexpected Places published by Review & Herald in 2002 and Cleansing Fire, Healing Streams: Experiencing God’s Love Through Prayer, published by Pacific Press in spring 2007. Many of his stories and essays about God’s encompassing love have been published in magazines and journals. Kent is often found on the hiking trails of the southern California mountains, following major league baseball, playing the piano or writing his weekly email devotional, “A Word of Grace for Your Monday” that is read by men and women from Alaska to Zimbabwe.

Kent and his beloved Patricia are enjoying their 31st year of marriage. They are the proud parents of Andrew, a college student.