I learned the value of picking up pennies in parking lots from 77-year-old Otha Anders.
In 2015 Anders exchanged over 500,000 pennies found over the previous four decades. He explained that the $5000.00 he received for the pennies, were far less valuable to him than the 500,000 thankfulness reminders he had received by finding lost pennies at unexpected times and in unexpected places.
“If I would see a penny when I’m gassing up, on the ground, or in a store, it would be a reminder to stop right there and say a prayer,” Anders said, in a 2015 interview with ABC News. “I never failed to do that. That’s why they had so much value to me.”
For Anders, every unexpected penny provided a mindfulness check — what could he thank God for at that moment?
We should not be surprised that the root word for thanksgiving (eucharist), joy (chara) and grace (charis) are the same in Greek. The three concepts are closely related. A thankful heart is the key that opens the door to Giant Joy’s beautiful Grace Castle (do not confuse Giant Joy with Giant Despair, the latter lives in Doubting Castle). Indeed, Psalm 100 teaches us that the password at God’s gates is “thank you.” G. K. Chesterton describes joy as a big Christian secret in his book “Orthodoxy.”
For the Christian, joy is gigantic and eternal while sadness is small and passing. Friday’s despair and Saturday’s sadness will always be followed by Sunday’s joy — this is the good news evangelicals offer the world.
How can we grow more mindful about the joy and grace we have received? How can we move toward being thankful always, as shown in Ephesians 1:16 and 1 Thessalonians 5:18? Picking up pennies is one creative strategy, but the church’s wisdom also invites us to embrace two other disciplines: Sabbath and the Lord’s Supper.
First, Sabbath provides weekly space for enjoying the joy and grace of Creation. Sabbath is a day to cease and feast, to pray and play. We stop our work to thank God for his. Thanksgiving break is a great time to put one of the dozens of good books on Sabbath on your Christmas list. Ask your pastor for a recommendation. You might also consider Marva Dawn’s “Keeping the Sabbath Wholly.”
Second, the Lord’s Supper is a regular reminder to give thanks for the Cross. At communion we lift our hearts to the Lord to give him thanks and praise. Pastors from every century urge God’s people to take advantage of the Lord’s Supper as often as we can. Participating in this holy celebration of thanksgiving is a source of deep joy for God’s people.
The books below are some of the ones that have helped me understand the joy we can find in the transformative power of the Lord’s Supper. From a Wesleyan perspective, try Gordon Smith’s “A Holy Meal: The Lord’s Supper in the Life of the Church.” From a Reformed perspective, try Peter Leithart’s “Blessed are the Hungry: Meditations on the Lord’s Supper.” For an African perspective try Edison Kalengyo’s “Celebrating the Lord’s Supper: Ending the Eucharistic Famine” and for a Latin American one try William Cavanaugh’s “Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ.”
Each time I find a penny in a parking lot, I am reminded of Anders’ 500,000 penny-prayers of praise. Every penny found is a reminder to give thanks. Even if you don’t want to play a thankfulness game with pennies, you can be intentional about growing in thanksgiving-mindfulness.
Take an hour or a day to read and reflect about Sabbath, the Lord’s Supper or about gratitude in general. On that last topic, I can’t resist recommending my favorite book on thankfulness, Leithart’s “Gratitude: An Intellectual History.” Enjoy your Thanksgiving break! Happy feasting, reading and resting!