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Thankfulness in a year like this

November 21, 2017

By all counts, this year has been a hard one. Not just a little bit hard, but in a deep gut-wrenching, darkness-is-everywhere and seems to be gaining ground kind of way. As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, you might be quietly wrestling in your soul with the question: Where do we find thankfulness in the midst of a year like this? Certainly there are personal blessings to count – babies born, friends made, projects complete, work accomplished, health restored, wounds healed. But thankfulness this year is going to require a deeper examination of reality than just surface concerns because on the surface, on the whole, this has been a difficult year.  

All I have to do is name the places: Houston, Puerto Rico, Sutherland Springs, Charlottesville, Las Vegas, Syrian, Yemen, Venezuela and Manchester; or name the systemic threats of opioids, suicide, war, famine, genocide, human trafficking, nuclear war, and racial hate touching all of us as citizens of a world that feels smaller and more interconnected every news cycle. Yes, all in just the past 11 months.

Just as there are tragedies “out there” and on our TVs each night, for many of us the brokenness is “in here”— as near as our neighbor or our own home, too. Personally, my family faced the indescribable pain of losing a friend suddenly and unjustly. He was shot and killed by a neighbor who subsequently took his own life. Two families on one street, shattered. And that pain intrudes into our home every day as my husband tends to the grief of a widow and her children as he knows his friend would be doing for me if the situation were reversed.

In the context of great pain, people across our nation gather in thanksgiving. Those who have lost homes in floods or fires or hurricanes will gather around new tables in new places to make new memories. Those who lost a loved one will leave an empty chair and remember the character of the person now gone. Conversations will be filled with stories of fear and pain and anger and MeToo and wonder if there are any good people in public to trust anymore. And yes, this is what Thanksgiving is for.

Thanksgiving is not just a feeling we get from declaring all the circumstantially “good stuff.” Thanksgiving for Christians is an acknowledgement that God is good in every circumstance.

This year, in particular, the people of God must know and show the reality of true Thanksgiving. We are not immune to pain but we know and trust the God who heals. We live here and now and face the day like everyone else. We lose jobs and trust God to provide. We grieve, but we grieve with hope. In and out of season, we bear witness to the reality of the King and the Kingdom even when the kingdoms of this world are not going our way.

It is in times like this the Psalmist reflects the reality of a heart holding on to a gentle and faithful God, in the midst of hardship:

Our soul waits for the Lord;

   he is our help and our shield.

For our heart is glad in him,

   because we trust in his holy name.

Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,

   even as we hope in you.

(Psalm 33:20-22)

Even as we hope in you.

Whatever situation the Psalmist is facing does not sound resolved. It is an ongoing concern— the Psalmist sounds to be waiting for reprieve and release. Yet the “heart is glad in him, because we trust his name.”

I identify with this cry.  Can’t you? It is a Psalm of tension. And that tension is the tension of living in the meantime, between the already and the not yet of God’s redemption of all things. We live in a world broken by human sin, and we trust in a God who redeems. These are indeed days of great distress, but they are also days of great hope. To this we bear witness and for this truth we give thanks.

I will enter His gates with Thanksgiving in my heart,

I will enter His courts with praise.  (Psalm 100:4)

I will say “this is the day the Lord has made,”

I will rejoice, for He has made me and I am His.

This day, tomorrow and forevermore.


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