Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.
What images come to mind when you think of Thanksgiving? A joyful meal with family and friends? Mass turkey consumption and all day football binges? Though many of us celebrate thanksgiving differently, there are two unifying themes: celebration and thanksgiving. Yet what about those who are facing hard times? Some are estranged from the family with whom they grew up celebrating, or maybe the loss of a parent makes this year especially hard to face. Others dread this holiday because it seems to accentuate what we are without; that November Thursday comes around and we are still without the job we prayed for, the baby we’ve been dreaming of or the healing we were so fervently believing God would bring. How do we celebrate thanksgiving when we don’t feel like celebrating at all, when our year has felt more like God withholding than graciously giving?
Though Thanksgiving isn’t necessarily a religious holiday like Christmas or Easter, there are few things so dear to God’s heart as when His children give thanks. It’s the essence of our worship, responding in gratitude to all that God has done for His people throughout history. More than that, the biblical idea of giving thanks is not necessarily connected to the feeling of gratitude. In the psalms, David commands his soul numerous times to bless the Lord. He knows that God is worthy of our gratitude and praise regardless of how our hearts feel. In psalm 34, David opens with the bold declaration, “I will bless the Lord at all times” (emphasis mine). He doesn’t state that he feels like blessing God at all times, but that sometimes our expression of thanks is volitional rather than emotional. And this is more than an Old Testament theme. Fast forward to the new testament to find a man who sings of joy from a jail cell and writes about spiritual freedom while living in shackles. For the apostle Paul, his gratitude stemmed from a deep understanding and appreciation of the gospel, believing that even on his worst of days, Jesus loved Him and gave His life so that he might know an inner peace and eternal security that no tragedy or injustice could ever take away. It was Paul’s eternal perspective, not his circumstances, that led to ceaseless praise and thanksgiving.
As you read this, I hope you hear my heart: it’s not about minimizing or masking our pain. It’s not about pretending that everything is fine, putting on a smile and suppressing what’s really going on in your life. It’s about taking your pain and discontentment to the One who is said to turn mourning into dancing, the One who delights in exchanging beauty for ashes. And though he doesn’t promise to answer every prayer the way we expect or in the time frame we envision, He will be near to the brokenhearted, and that in and of itself is enough to fill my heart with thanksgiving.
Prayer: God, give us the grace to give thanks in all circumstance, believing that this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Amen.