Monday, November 22, 2010

Give Thanks?

It seems that Thanksgiving is coming whether we like it or not!  Over the years I have noticed that there are very few people who approach this time of year in a 'neutral' position.  We either look forward to it with piqued excitement, or we dread it with every fiber of our being.  

Those who are excited are probably anticipating a great meal with all the trimmings, lots of family gathered together, great conversation, love all around.

But for those who are in a position of dreading what is to come, those things might not be a reality.  Maybe you are approaching the holidays for the first time after a loved one has died and you wish there was a fast-forward button.  Maybe your marriage is falling apart and Thanksgiving just seems like a time to "fake it" so the rest of the world won't see that you are actually screaming on the inside.  Maybe a family rift has plagued your life for quite some time and the idea of getting together to 'celebrate' is simply more painful than it is pleasant.  Maybe you are out of work and unable to afford the extravagance the holidays usually facilitate.  

Wherever you are in your life, I want to throw the idea out there that giving thanks, whatever the circumstance, might actually be good for your soul.  I know it sounds trite.  And believe me, I do not intend to invalidate your pain.

On days when I can't muster gratefulness, I like to open to the book of Psalms.  The Psalms  encompass the height and depth of human emotion.  Take Psalm 13 as an example.  The Psalmist is truly crying out in pain:

 1 How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever?
   How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
   and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
   How long will my enemy triumph over me?
 3 Look on me and answer, LORD my God.
   Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
   and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
   my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the LORD’s praise,
   for he has been good to me.

The author sounds to me like someone who is caught in the torments of depression and anxiety...."How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day  have sorrow in my heart?"  But even in the midst of this deep and dark pain, the Psalmist ends his song in praise and thanksgiving (vs. 5-6) as if to say - "I know that today totally sucks.  But I also remember that God has been good to me before and I have every hope that God will be good to me again."

I think that right there is the key to giving thanks.  Even if today (or this year or month) is foggy and gross, we have our memories of yesterday and we have our hope of tomorrow.  So sometimes we give thanks for what IS.  And sometimes we give thanks for what WAS.  And sometimes we give thanks for what WILL BE.  It's the art of looking back and looking forward.  

In a sermon a couple of weeks ago, my colleague said something that has stuck with me ever since:

You cannot be grateful and bitter.
You cannot be grateful and unhappy.
You cannot be grateful and without hope.
You cannot be grateful and unloving. 
So just be grateful. 

So, just what are you grateful for?  Make a list, draw a picture, write a song, cook a meal of Thanksgiving.  Share it with anyone who will listen or look or hear or taste.  Your Thanksgiving will be more meaningful - and your heart, whether breaking or dancing, will be full, if only for a moment.

1 Thessalonians 5
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Thanks for these words. I have been not being grateful because I am quite discontent with what 'is' at the moment...and I have been feeling guilty about it. But your words reminded me that I am thankful for so much that 'was' and that perhaps there is reason to believe that hope is still there. Thank you!