Happy Thanksgiving?

“Happy Thanksgiving!” We say it to our friends as we head out of town for the holiday. Store clerks say it to us as we make our final purchases for the meal. We say it without thinking, because we’re excited about the upcoming time with family, or looking forward to a day off work or just because it’s what you say in late November.
And oftentimes, we really mean it. In November like no other time of year, we can easily think of reasons to be thankful. If any of your Facebook friends are doing the “30 Days of Thanks” trend, you’ve probably seen a lot of repetition: salvation, spouse, children, extended family, health, freedom, etc. Most of us are blessed beyond measure and can come up with a list fairly quickly.
But sometimes–oftentimes?–our list doesn’t even touch some pretty significant aspects of our lives. Are you going through a hard time financially? Mourning the loss of a loved one? Unemployed? Reeling from a life-changing diagnosis? What about simply struggling with a difficult co-worker? Dealing with a child going through a disrespectful streak? Walking through your days in the sleep-deprived fog only an infant can cause? Juggling doctor bills and electric bills and paying for repairs on the car? Going through a dry spell spiritually? Did any of these make your list? Even of none of these scenarios are present in your life right now, it’s almost a guarantee that there is some sort of trial going on, and when we are going through a trial, it tends to be a very big part of life. And yet, these things rarely make the list.
And for good reason, you might be thinking. After all, most of us, if asked what thanksgiving is, would say it is being thankful for the goodthings we have been given. Who would include job loss or cancer or annoying co-workers on that list?
When I think about my life right now, of course my list would be topped by the same blessings of salvation, family, friends, health and freedom that I’ve seen on the lists of many of my friends. I would also include specific answered prayers, like my husband’s good report from the surgeon Tuesday and the fact that we’re home tonight instead of in a Louisville hospital while he recovers from major surgery. But we are also in the midst of several frustrating situations that don’t feel very gratitude-inspiring. At the first glance over my life, those situations wouldn’t make the list.
But here’s the hard truth–they should. There’s nothing wrong with the phrase “Happy Thanksgiving,” except that it implies that thanksgiving is always happy. This is not what Scripture teaches, though. Scripture doesn’t command us to “give thanks in the situations you like.” No, we are commanded to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess 5:18) Give thanks in your financial struggles, your health struggles, your work struggles, your parenting struggles. Psalm 50:14 says “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving.” The footnote in the ESV has the alternate meaning: “Make thanksgiving your sacrifice to God.” Do you see that? Sometimes, it’s a sacrifice to be thankful.
There are situations in my life for which I don’t feel thankful. They are hard, they are stressful, and I frankly can’t wait until they are over. Sometimes God brings heartbreak in our lives, times when it hurts to breathe and we wish we could just stop feeling. How do we obey in these times, how do we give thanks for what we fervently wish had never happened?
We have to believe, in these times, that God will keep His promises. We have to have faith, and beg for the faith we lack, to believe that He is who He says and will do what He says. And He says that He will work all things together for good for those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). He says that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness, which when it has its full effect, will make us perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:3-4). He says that there is a crown of life waiting for us when we have stood the test of trials (James 1:12). He says He will not break a bruised reed or quench even a faintly burning wick (Isaiah 42:3). He says He is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).
We give thanks for the promises. We give thanks for the promise that these hard things in our lives are not being wasted. We give thanks that He is using them to make us more like Jesus. We give thanks that He is still working on us, He isn’t finished, His love never gives up.
We don’t have to understand what He’s doing, or why He’s doing it. Trying to figure Him out will only drive us crazy, because His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9). And really, isn’t that in itself a comfort? For who would want to worship a god he could figure out?
I write this because it’s been the whisper of the Spirit in my soul recently. Those frustrating situations in my life tend to stay front and center in my thoughts, and thanksgiving does not often accompany those thoughts. And I suspect that I am not the only one who could admit this. So I share my challenge with you: this Thanksgiving, go beyond the usual blessings when you’re making your list. Think about the places in your heart that hurt, or are confused, or scared. Think about the hole in your heart where He has said “No, you can’t have that right now.” Think about what you’ve lost, how you’ve struggled, how your desires have been frustrated. “Give thanks in all circumstances.” Instead of offering up only the thanks that are easy for you to give, offer a sacrifice that costs dearly. It might break you to offer thanks for those heartaches. So bring Him a broken and contrite spirit (Psalm 51:17), giving a sacrifice of thanksgiving for the truth of His promises in your hurts, whether you feel thankful or not.
No, thanksgiving is not always happy. But it is always right, and always good for the soul.

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