Imagine, if you will, a New Year's Eve party being held in a ballroom. The Christmas lights are twinkling merrily above, and their light is magnified by their reflection shining on mirrors on either side of the room. The rest of lights are dimmed, and disco balls sprinkle tiny colored lights onto the floor. All around people laugh, dance, or stand on the sidelines chatting. You see older couples, who've been dancing for years, and not a single step of theirs falters. You see social dancers, there to have a good time and meet other people. And you see "professional" dancers who take classes and use dance to express art and feeling and movement.
And then there, on the edge of the room, or in the center, where things move a little slower, you see another couple of dancers. It's quite clearly the female's first time doing anything of the sort. You watch as she's taught steps to dance after dance (because of course, they never play music for two of the same kind of dance in a row). Her partner is patient to explain and to model and to hold on tight so she doesn't fall (because she definitely would, otherwise). But what you see when you watch them dance is not so much the steps they're taking. It's not so much the fact that she doesn't know what she's doing. What you notice is his uninhibited joy of being in that place at that time, feeling the moment and the music and the magic of the promise of a new year. And you notice her delighted laughter--at his joy and her mistakes and their fun and playfulness together.
And then you notice, over the course of the night, that you were not the only one to notice them dancing. When it's time for pictures, you hear someone call out, "yeah, make sure to get a picture of them." You overhear several other people telling them, "you look like you're having such a good time." And you overhear one woman telling the male dancer how much his joy has impacted her--about how difficult her life has been this year and how much he has inspired her by his pure and uninhibited love of life. And for just a moment, you want to be them.
When I think of those dancers, I am struck by how much pure thankfulness and gratitude to God can transform a person and be something that attracts others to a life of faith. The male dancer has suffered much, yet he remains one of the most positive people I've ever met. His secret is that he practices the discipline of thankfulness to God for the things that he has. And over time that discipline of thankfulness has transformed his attitude into one of gratitude and hope and openness to life and the abundance that God has to offer. And that makes him someone that people want to be around, want to emulate, want to learn from.
I must admit that I have not been an exceptionally joyful person, particularly this year. If you've been reading at all, you know that this year has been one of great darkness and difficulty. In the first conversation that I ever really had with the male dancer, I began to long for the kind of hope and joy that he has in his daily life. As I thought about my goals for this year, choosing to practice the discipline of thanksgiving to God was one of my top priorities. And even as I have practiced it for only the last few weeks, I have seen it changing and transforming my own attitudes and heart. The darkness that is out there does not look so dark to me as it once did.
But it wasn't until I saw the response of everyone to his dancing that I really began to think about how much thankfulness and having an attitude of gratitude is truly an invitation to the world to abundant life. What if we, as the church, were truly thankful and grateful to what we've been given? What if, in spite of hardships and suffering we took time to celebrate the gifts we have found within our circumstances? What if we focused on the good giver of those gifts instead of the difficult circumstances we see around us?
Jesus offers us abundant life with the Eternal One. I am convinced that abundance comes, at least in part, from our grateful thanksgiving to God for all he has given us and all he has done. And the beauty of that gratefulness is in its power to invite and inspire other people to embrace the abundance of life in Christ too.
What do you have to be thankful to God for? How can you express this gratitude in your everyday life? How can God use this gratefulness to transform you and to invite and inspire others to embrace the abundant life he offers through Christ?
I don't know about you, but this year, I want to learn to dance the uninhibited dance of joy and thanksgiving.