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When Everything Means Nothing

Thank you God for everything in this world.

Such was Gabe’s rush to pizza prayer before dinner last night. I followed up with with some “thanks-for-everything” means “thanks-for-nothing” motherly instruction.  Be specific, boys. God wants to hear the details.  Thank Him for two good times you had today.  

Then, this morning the AM talk show was abuzz with Hillary’s Benghazi “non-apology, apology.” During her interview with Diane Sawyer earlier this week, Clinton took “full responsibility” for the the tragic events at the US Consulate. (http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2014/06) When the host asked Senator Ron Johnson about the apology, he took her to task, claiming that such broad brush regret was no regret at all. 

What, he asked, is she saying she is responsible forShe just wants it all behind her. What about Benghazi does she really take responsibility for? Johnson queried.  For reducing the number of troops in Syria?  For failing to respond to calls for help? What exactly is she taking responsibility for? 

In the span of 12 hours from Gabe’s dinner time grace to the morning talk exchange, I was reminded twice. Be specific. 


Apologies, like thanks, are best well-defined. Sorry for everything is nearly as bad as Sorry if you’re angry, or Sorry if you feel hurt. None are truly healing confessions; for you or the offended. Own up. Specifics means more.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote Life Together in 1938 while sharing his life with twenty-five vicars in an “illegal” seminary on the border of Germany and Poland. The last chapter of the book, “Confession and Communion,” impressed me when I first read it more than a decade ago and shape me still.

Besides telling why it is easier to confess to God rather than a sister or brother, and what’s wrong with self-forgiveness, Bonhoeffer explains why confession of specific sins is so important.

People usually are satisfied when they make a general confession. But one experiences the utter perdition and corruption of human nature, in so far as this ever enters into experience at all, when one sees his own specific sins. Self examination on the basis of all Ten Commandments will therefore be the right preparation for confession.  Otherwise it might happen that one could still be a hypocrite even in confessing to a brother and thus miss the good of the confession.  p. 117

Sorry I lost my temper before church last Sunday.  Sorry I didn’t wait for you to finish your thought before I butted in.  Not, Sorry for everything. 

Specific matter when we give thanks, too. I thank Jim that he got the shirts right out of the dryer before they wrinkled and that he surprised me with my favorite hot-fudge sundae, with chopped nuts.  Not, Thanks for everything, Hon.  

I suspect it means more to God when Gabe thanks him for the fun lunch we ate in Bryce’s treehouse and these yummy chocolate straws than for everything.  In everything give thanks, Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church. Yes! But not in one breath. You know: Count your blessings, name them one by one…

The Sweet Psalmist knew nitty-gritty; he thanked God for enemies stumbling, well-dug pits, forgiveness and answered prayers.  

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart. I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.  Psalm 9:1

Ann Voskamp’s best-selling, One Thousand Gifts, is a probing, reflective description- and prescription-of thanking God in specifics.  

In counting gifts, to one thousand, more, I discover that slapping as sloppy brush of thanksgiving over everything in my life leaves me deeply thankful for very few things in my life….I testify: life-changing gratitude does not fasten to a life unless nailed through with one very specific nail at a time.  p. 57

It’s in naming the details, I think, that we actually magnify the Lord with thanksgiving. Microscopes magnify contours of a finger tip and scales on a hair. Thanking God in specifics makes Him look bigger, magnifies Him, for all who hear the thanks.

So I recount some specific gifts: a warm June breeze and a lovely Luna moth, an honest exchange with quiet son and a sneak-out-of-bed kiss from the other one. I thank God those things. Not for everything, but for those things.

Because I’m learning, In thanks as in confession, everything means nothing.