When Thanksgiving seems tough
Thursday, our national day to give thanks, carries with it a rich tradition older than our country itself. Thanksgiving was our first national holiday, set aside in 1789 by President Washington as a day, “to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be — That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks.” [Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation]
The Bible says that giving thanks to God is good for us. Three of the shortest verses in Scripture address how important it is: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
All of us have much for which we can be grateful to God: it’s humbling and heartwarming to reflect on all the blessings that can only be accounted for as God’s kindness to us.
But what about the moments when giving thanks is hard, if not impossible? Our minds leap to those who have lost all their material possessions — and some families their loved ones — in the ongoing California wildfires. The more we reflect on those currently suffering some calamity, the longer the list grows. There’s a young mom I know whose 3-year old son is battling cancer, and countless others who are facing crises. How can these people give thanks? Wouldn’t that require some special type of insanity?
Certainly, God is not asking us to be thankful for tragedy or disaster when they strike. The verse encourages us to “give thanks in all circumstances.” We ought to give thanks in the midst of difficult times, not necessarily for the calamity itself. Why? God Himself walks with us through whatever we face.
While we may even feel angry against God for the pain we or others endure, He never abandons us. We can thank God for our relationship with Him, and for His abiding presence, no matter what situation we face.
I observed a profound example of such thankfulness during a trip to the Middle East earlier this year. We were visiting a family from Syria who now live in a tent in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. They were middle class, industrious people from Aleppo, until ISIS murderers invaded their city. The day we visited them, they received word from relatives that their home had just been destroyed during a government bombing campaign. The husband remarked, “We have now lost everything, but it was worth it all to have found Jesus.”
This man could have focused on all he lost; instead, he expressed gratitude for his new-found relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. That relationship which endures through any trial we face and sustains us with God’s love and peace, always provides us with cause for thanksgiving.
Don Baumann is outreach pastor at Hilltop Community Church.