Does this sound familiar?
Toddler: “Gramma, I wanna cookie.”
Parent: “What’s the magic word?”
Grandma: “Sure, dear, help yourself.”
Parent: “Now what do you say to Grandma?”
Toddler: “I wan anadur wun!”
Parent: “CHRIStopher Jonathan Jones, WHAT do you say?”
Toddler: “Thank yew.”
Parent: “That’s better.”
Toddler: “Now gimme anuder wun.”
Familiar, right? So let’s analyze this a bit. Is Christopher Jonathan Jones basically a good kid who needs only a bit of teaching to set him straight (Pelagius, Erasmus, et al)? Is Christopher basically a decent chap who needs a shot of grace to bump him up to the next level of godliness (medieval theologians, et al)? Or is Christopher showing his real stripes: “conceived and born in sin and subject to all manner of misery, yea, to condemnation itself in Adam” (Calvin, old Reformed baptismal form, et al)?
With kids and grandkids of my own, I confess I don’t even consider this a horserace. I’ll bet Mssrs. Pelagius, Erasmus, and Aquinas were rarely around kids. Else they, too, would surely have been Calvinists.
Tough, stubborn, inside-out thankfulness is truly a miracle.
Upbringing can do only so much. It’s not enough for Christopher to learn to mouth words of thanks. It’s not enough for Christopher to get a shot of religion to launch him on the road to piety. Those things matter, but what Christopher really needs foremost is a total inside-out transformation of his basic, fundamental being (the Bible calls it “the heart,” the real inner self). Somewhere, somehow, through the power and operation of God’s Spirit, Christopher needs to be “born from above,” “born anew” (John 3:3-5).
Wedged between Canadian Thanksgiving and U.S. Thanksgiving is Reformation Day. Good deal. Reformation Day (Oct. 31) is the day we remember how church reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin rediscovered how deep our need for transformation really goes and how freely and willingly God graciously meets it.
Reformation Day reminds us that true, genuine, heartfelt thankfulness cannot be gained just through instruction. Parents can teach the outward patterns: “Christopher, so what do you say to Grandma?” Sunday school lessons and sermons can teach us all we should be thankful for. But real thanksgiving comes from a genuinely grateful heart. And that comes only when we are (re)born with that new nature that knows, experiences, and actively responds to the unmerited grace that our Provider pours out on us every day.
Like any birth, that deep-from-within thankfulness doesn’t come without struggle and pain. But it endures even when the cupboard is bare, the soul drowns in grief, and the mind is bedeviled by unyielding depression.
That kind of tough, stubborn, inside-out thankfulness is truly a miracle.
Whether you thrived or strived this past year, whether you observe Thanksgiving in October or November, may you experience that deep thankfulness that keeps on flowing because it’s the gift of God’s Spirit coming from within. The apostle Paul writes, “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:15-17, RSV). Thank you, Abba!
May Christopher experience that everlasting gratitude too. Of course, he’ll still need examples and reminders to help him tell it.
But don’t we all?