Thanksgiving is a week away and being thankful feels absolutely foreign for many of us. Images of happy families gathering is a reminder of what could have been or should have been. And it hurts. Pain is very real.
I’ve been through seasons like that. One in particular was spring and the season for graduation, proms, awards nights, and all the other celebratory festivities of a senior’s year in high school were upon us. But our daughter, a senior that year, had decided she was done with school. At 18, she knew she was not legally bound to us anymore so she dropped out and moved in with a friend of hers who we barely knew.
I remember keenly the loneliness we felt as parents when all of our friends, parents we’d known since our kids were in grade school together, were all gathered at awards night and then at graduation. We were at home alone, wondering where our daughter was, and if she was safe. Fear was our companion, not our friends.
I was not happy nor was I thankful. This was not what I had prayed for. This was not good for her or for us. It was just the beginning of a very long journey, the story of which would fill a book if God desires some day.
Learning the hard way is not my idea of fun. I think maybe Job felt that way too.
Images from magazines, social media, Pinterest, and TV have scripted the annual events of life with fairytale perfection. We have bought into the belief that graduations, birthday parties, and all our holidays, including Thanksgiving next week, should be happy gatherings without any conflict or pain.
We aren’t in heaven yet, lest we forget. This earth is a broken, messed up place. G.K. Chesterton, when asked what is the problem with the world, replied, “I am.”
Life without sin is the image we wish for. And too often the stories we consume or imagine other people live seem to be free from any conflict or “sins” like ours.
A dear friend of ours wrote a book years ago titled Faith is not a Feeling, which intended to help readers like me understand that my faith can be strong even when my feelings are a mess. These words have been a guide to me for all the times in daily life when I didn’t want to give thanks, forgive, or show grace because I didn’t feel like it, including that spring when our daughter dropped out of school and didn’t graduate.
After some of the panic of fear and confusion subsided, I remembered my God. And I gave thanks by faith. Dennis and I continued to give thanks in the months and years that followed, believing by faith that
-God was in control,
-He had a plan and was working toward it,
-He cared for and loved our daughter more than we did, and
-He could be trusted at all time.
In God’s realm, giving thanks isn’t optional. It’s not okay to forego gratitude. Give thanks in ALL things, means exactly that. In every situation and circumstance God asks us, commands us, to give Him thanks.
Because thanking Him is an acknowledgement of His authority first. It also realigns our thinking, our faith, with what is true. And what is true is that God loves us and has promised to work all things together for our good, to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Two important conditions are loving Him, again not based on feelings, and belonging to Him as His born again child.
Likely the working of good in this verse won’t be in our timing, meaning it won’t come nearly as fast as we’d like. The change we desire might not even happen at all. The outcome isn’t the point. It’s all about our hearts. Believing in Him by faith is what He desires. “For the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (I Samuel 16:7).
As you consider what to do with this holiday that feels all wrong may I encourage you to start today giving thanks for what He has allowed in your life, your world? Ask Him if you should go to the family gathering or if you should bravely invite someone else who is lonely to share a meal of gratitude with you.
God has a plan and will show you the way, but the first step in knowing that, in hearing His whisper to you is to give thanks. Thanksgiving clears the clutter in our hearts.
May you experience the relief that giving thanks can bring. May you know the peace of His presence with you in this season when it seems that everyone is happy but you. God knows and will comfort. Open the door by giving Him your thanksgiving.