By the time I publish this post, Thanksgiving will have come and gone, turkey will have been consumed in mass quantities, inevitably followed by the “food coma,” football games will be watched (or slept through, if you’re like me), and games will be played and won (my competitive nature presents itself when Ticket to Ride or NERTS is quite literally brought to the table). I’m writing this the day before Thanksgiving for two reasons: 1) I’m a teacher who will have a bundle of papers that will be staring me down in an accusatory manner come Sunday; 2) I’ve found that with many things in life the anticipation of an event can provide an illuminated perspective and approach of gratitude when the “main event” arrives.
Christmas, parties, vacations, weddings, movie releases (Star Wars anyone?!), graduations, births, the list goes on. When you are working towards a goal or eagerly awaiting that something, it is that much sweeter when it arrives, when you experience success, when you think “finally”…
But what if it doesn’t turn out the way you hoped? What if you didn’t get into that school you dreamed of? What if you don’t get the job you wanted? What if you have been hoping and praying for a child, and each month you feel a loud “NO” shouted over you? What if you give your heart to someone and they simply don’t feel the same way?
I love this time of year. I love the way people are more apt to express their gratitude for God, family, friends, freedom, and health. I love observing the way that the mundane becomes moving, the ordinary becomes sacred, and the simple becomes profound. Have you noticed this? When your mindset becomes fixed on thanksgiving, you may find yourself being thankful for your tube of toothpaste, a certain slant of sunlight, or the fact that your fingers have the dexterity to type a message. I know that sounds trivial; it sounds far more noble to recognize the fact that most of us don’t fall asleep and wake up to the sounds of bombs. But the truth is…I’m not thankful for that. I wish I could DO something. I wish I could take their pain. I wish I could stand in their place, not because I’m such a good person, but because I feel powerless, unworthy, and indignant all at the same time.
How do I practice gratitude for where I live, my education, my friends and family, my health, when there is a multitude of individual lives who are hurting? I don’t have “the” answer, but I do have a bit of one that God has been revealing to me. Thanksgiving is not about me, and it’s not about you. It’s about The Giver. Giving thanks and offering up our lives for others provides a glimpse into the design of our Creator. I give thanks to my God who is faithful and true even when I waver. I give thanks to my God, the Author of Good News, even when our lives are inundated with media coverage displaying just how bad news can be. When I take my eyes off of God and cast my gaze onto the world, thanksgiving is difficult to find. When I make it about me and my performance instead of about Christ’s grace, I have ignored The Cross. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I’ve found that when I practice gratitude for all things (and it’s not easy) I come to the conclusion that everything has meaning. Yes, even the mundane. Yes, even the pain.
Amanda Cook’s album Brave New World has been the cry of my heart these last few months. The opening track, “Heroes” offers this beautiful truth:
“I will trust, here in the mystery
I will trust in You completely …
You taught my feet to dance upon disappointment
And I, I will worship…”
I don’t know about you, but when I face disappointment the last thing I want to do is break into dance. And yet, after some time with The Healer, I find that when I strive to give thanks in all circumstances, I am changed. My bitterness, resentment, brokenness, sadness and disappointment turns to praise. The part that really gets me though, is how God allows us to feel it all so that He can heal it all. It is slow, and yes, healing can hurt, but He knows what it’s like to be us. God has let me be angry with Him. He has let me ask, why? He has let me question His ways and His promises. He’s let me be weak and wounded, and in turn He has given me a strength only He could provide.
Which brings us back to Thanksgiving.
In Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts , she highlights the meaning behind Jesus sitting at the dinner table with his people. The Lord’s Supper also goes by the name eucharisteo, which, in Greek means “he gave thanks.” Jesus is sitting with his disciples, sharing a meal, knowing full well that the time of his death is approaching, and he gives thanks. The root word of eucharisteo is charis, which means “grace,” and is a derivative of chara, meaning “joy.” At the thanksgiving table there is remembrance, which can bring pain, but there is also great joy for what God has done. He sits at the table with his people. He breaks bread. Stories are told. There is laughter. There is peace. There is fellowship. What a beautiful picture of how much God just wants to be with us.
Now it is my turn to express my sincere gratitude for you, reader. Thank you for taking time (a precious commodity in our day and age) to listen. The words of others have brought me such peace and perspective that my hope and prayer is that somehow, in spite of my ramblings and shortcomings, a seed of truth will fall on fertile ground. What do we do with a hurting and broken world? Pray. Remember. See. Do. Thanksgiving breeds action, and we cannot sit idly by. It’s not about us, but God does want to use us. We can’t turn a blind eye, but we also can’t feel guilt and shame for where we are, what we have, and who we have. My exhortation for you, reader, and for myself, is to remember that God has called us to love others, to listen, to meet people in their pain, to share, to celebrate, to worship, to trust, to choose joy, and to give thanks in all circumstances.
Peace and hugs to you, my friends.