I watched the TV series Yellowstone earlier this year and was very struck by a moment in season 4 involving my favourite character, Rip Wheeler. Rip has been effectively adopted by the family that owns the ranch, coming from his own traumatic family background. Over time he becomes the real lynchpin for the running of the ranch. There comes a point when his wife has brought in a ‘stray’ – another boy, Carter, also running from a broken down situation. When Carter asks Rip how he managed to not just survive but thrive in the environment of the ranch (something that Carter is struggling with) Rip says, “Don’t think you deserve it. You don’t deserve it. And you never will.”
I like this because there is a real Holy Spirit about it. I’m not suggesting that Rip is a Christian – those familiar with the programme will know why not – but because this spirit of acceptance, of not taking things for granted, of not feeling entitled, seems to me to be exactly how we are to live as Christians within the world; and this, not in response to a soul-crushing ‘ought’ but as the means, the only means, by which we can discover joy in the world.
What I mean is this: it’s all a gift. In the end we either accept the ticket (Dostoyevsky) or we reject it. If we reject it we are expressing a sense of entitlement, an entitlement which brings forth cynicism and bitterness when reality doesn’t co-operate with our expectations. If, instead, we expect nothing we can be grateful for whatever comes, we fundamentally say ‘yes’ to our existence, a ‘yes, thank you’. On such a basis life becomes the vessel and vehicle for authentic life.
Barth famously said ‘gratitude follows grace as thunder follows lightning’. I want to cultivate my sense of gratitude as the appropriate response to the presence of grace in my life. I hope that it will counter the cynicism and bitterness and despair into which I sometimes sink.
So I might start including the general thanksgiving prayer with compline each night, which runs like this:
ALMIGHTY God, Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men. We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, and that we shew forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives; by giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.