What do you think of when you hear the word “black hole”? My reaction is sometimes different from the norm. Depending on my frame of mind, I may think about the internet forum that I am a member of. One of the moderators claims that she has a black hole—or, rather, the Black Hole. Her Black Hole swallows everything—posts, threads, members, cacti, etc. I believe it contained the universe the last time I checked.
How close her Black Hole is to the scientists’ conception of black holes, I don’t know. At the very least, it seems to pull everything into itself, but I don’t think its origins have anything to do with dying stars. In any case, I’ll leave the scientific details to the experts. Because—whatever the facts about black holes in outer space—the earth we live on includes a number of black holes.
These black holes suck in everything around them, no matter how good, and those things never see the light of day again. They are gone, never appreciated or put to use. Black holes are in a process of becoming. They were meant to be stars, but collapsed on their own gravity. They are in a process of becoming—that is, their gravitational pull can become stronger over time, making it difficult for anything to exist around them. Yes, I’m talking about humans.
We often call this “black hole syndrome” something like “self-absorption.” It’s easy to label (in other people) and easier to miss (in ourselves). The problem is that we rarely feel self-absorbed, even when we are. We get a picture in our head of someone walking around with his or her nose in the air, or bragging nonstop, or of snubbing other people. And of course, we’re not like that.
Two years ago, Ann Voskamp published a book about the opposite of “black hole syndrome.” Called One Thousand Gifts, it describes her spiritual journey—led by a new understanding of the Greek roots of the word “Eucharist”—toward thankfulness. “Eucharist” comes from the eucharisteo, the Greek behind Luke 22:19, “And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.” Eucharisteo. Thanksgiving. Even while eating the Last Supper, Christ gave thanks.
Giving thanks isn’t my natural reaction to anything, and especially not when facing something unpleasant. Either I worry, or find a way to joke about it, or block it out altogether. I’m perfectly aware of the verses in the Bible that talk about being thankful in everything, but I haven’t generally paid much attention to them. Mostly I’ve tried to avoid complaining. Nothing more.
After all, why start giving thanks when everything is going wrong? Won’t that make me like one of the stereotypical elderly church ladies, being naïve about problems, always assuming that things will go well when experience tells me they probably won’t? I still remember an older lady who died of cancer when I was a teenager. She was so convinced God was going to heal her that she refused surgery. She liked to talk about faith, and she praised God for healing her. Then she left her small church, damaging it badly, and died a few months later. There’s a part of me (a very small part) that would like to be more thankful. But not that kind of thankfulness—an emotional state conjured up because “that’s what Christians are supposed to do.”
Christ’s thankfulness was not put-on. He wasn’t trying to prove how faith-filled He was. Rather, He was genuinely grateful. If some “thankfulness” is contrived, some thankfulness is also real, forged in the midst of fire, not despite it. My temptation is to feel that it’s more “real” to be focused on my problems. To believe that I have two options—rubbing the dirt on my clothes, or sticking my head in the sand. But those aren’t the real options.
When we don’t see a lifestyle of thankfulness as an option—whether out of a misguided desire to be “real,” or something else—we end up where this post began. Black holes. We are surrounded by both good and evil, and we suck it all into ourselves, making no use of anything. The inward gravitational pull grows stronger, and all the living things about us begin to die. We shrink and shrivel. Soon we’ve sucked in so much light around us that we can’t even be seen. That’s the beginning of hell, according to C.S. Lewis’s conception. We have become our own prison.
Salvation, Voskamp asserts, is found through thankfulness. The leper in Luke 17 who gave thanks was the only one of all ten to find salvation. The other lepers were focused on themselves. Did they see it as selfishness? Probably not. Maybe they were thinking of relatives and friends who would want to see them healed. Perhaps they were too excited, too caught in the moment, to think about who had healed them. In any case, they, still unsaved, left Jesus, their outer disease healed and their inner disease ravaging them as fiercely as ever. We have to respond to the gospel with thankfulness, not forgetfulness, if it is to change us.
Our salvation begins at the moment of our conversion, but it does not end there. “Thanksgiving—giving thanks in everything—is what prepares the way for salvation’s whole restoration,” Voskamp writes. We can be lights in the world, reflecting God’s goodness, or we can be black holes, sucking God’s gifts into ourselves, where they will never be seen again. “The way through is hard,” Voskamp says. And so it is—learning to have real thankfulness, not insincere flattery toward God, churned up to please the pastor. For me, eucharisteo will require discipline, and a lot of it. But eucharisteo—heart of the gospel, heart of my Savior—is something I need, desperately.
We had Communion last Sunday—the Eucharist—and I thought about eucharisteo. Christ giving thanks for the food that represented a death almost unspeakable. Could any thanks have been harder than His?