Simple Gifts

Phil 4:8-10: Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

I recently read about how in the 1800s, Lutheran women placed a small box in a special location in their home as a visible reminder of the graces they received.  Women would add coins to the box almost daily as they noticed these reminders of God’s blessing.  

They called it a thankoffering.  And eventually, these boxes became the origin of what is now an annual event for many Women of the ELCA groups around the world– their Thankoffering service.  

I didn’t know this was how the Thankoffering service got started until I read this article.  In fact, I didn’t even know what a Thankoffering service was or that there was such a thing in the history of the Women of the ELCA until I became a pastor.  

But I like this idea of having a visual and tangible thing that reminds us to focus on the ways God’s grace is made known to us in our lives each day and giving a thankoffering for them.  I haven’t been in the habit of giving a thankoffering myself, but I do have two items in my kitchen that help me remember to focus on God’s simple gifts and give thanks for them.   

The first one is a post-it I’ve had on the inside of one of our cupboards for quite a while.  Too often for me, out of sight means out of mind, so a couple of years ago I put this question there to prompt me to find at least one thing each day to be grateful for.  

At the time, I was going through a period where I was struggling to see God in my everyday life and I had to be intentional about noticing glimpses of God’s grace and giving thanks for them.  Having this post-it up didn’t fix things overnight, but whenever I did see it, it was the reminder I needed to turn my thoughts in a particular direction.

The second visual reminder I have is more recent.  It’s a jar that sits in my kitchen windowsill.  Sometimes it sits on our kitchen table if I need it to be even more obvious.  

But several months ago, a friend shared with me how he and his wife had the practice of writing down something they were grateful for each week on Sundays when they had dinner.  They then shared with one another what they had written down, and put the slip of paper in a jar.  

He said that at the end of the year, what they’re going to do is read through all the slips together as a way of remembering all the things they had to be grateful for and the ways they had seen God at work in their lives.  

Personally, I don’t always remember to have our family do this every week, but I keep the jar visible anyway.  Because each time I look at it, it reminds me to be on the lookout for God moments and to express my gratitude in writing. 

I share the idea of the Thankoffering box, as well as these reminders I have in my own kitchen to be on the lookout for God moments, and God’s goodness, because these days, I think we can use all the help we can get to remember to notice the little things and to focus on the good we see in the world.  And to me, that’s what focusing on the Simple Gifts of God is all about.

Because the thing is, though God is huge and beyond imagination, God is also in the simple things, and God shows up in our lives everyday all around us.  And the more we are on the lookout for those ways, the more I think we’ll see.  

But doing so doesn’t always come naturally, so we might need to train our eyes and our ears to notice God at work in the ordinary and everyday events and details of our lives.    

That’s part of the reason I appreciate the words from Philippians, chapter four.  Because the thing is, there are so many voices that come our way each day that try to distract us from the promise of God’s steadfast love and provision.  Messages that are filled with an underlying sense of fear, anxiety, mistrust, even hate and scorn.  And it can be easy to chase any one of these things down the rabbit hole and get overwhelmed.  

But doing that never seems to lead to a sense of peace, or a feeling of calm.  And to me, that is one of the greatest– and even simplest– gifts of God that there is.  But that sense of peace doesn’t just happen, and whether we experience it or not is closely related to what we allow to fill our thoughts and screens.  

That’s why I think it is so important that we keep coming back to the things that are of God– and train our eyes and our ears and our hearts to notice the ways God’s love and light show up in the world.