Network member Pastor Marc Lambert from Moody TX provides his thoughts on Thanksgiving for Christians experiencing suffering or hardship.
Well, it is Wednesday, and Thanksgiving is tomorrow. Most of y’all are probably scurrying about in last minute preparations for visitors or travel or meal preparation … wondering if it really is worth it to brave the grocery store for that one item you forgot.
We do this dance every year because we like turkey and stuffing and family and all the other stuff … but also Thanksgiving is a time for giving thanks (saw that one coming didn’t you?).It is a day when we try and set aside everything and focus on being grateful for and enjoying the good things and the blessings in our lives. We do as the old hymn says and “count our blessings” so that we may see “what the Lord has done”.
However, amidst all the rejoicing and festivity, we can lose sight of the fact that not everybody has the same experience. Not everyone sees much to be thankful for.
What do you do if you don’t see much good? What do you do when the good is overshadowed by some pain or sorrow in your life? How do you give thanks when “thankfulness” is the last thing on your mind?
In the last week or so, the prayer chain at church has lit up with needs and requests, and we’re not a very big church. But even in our little congregation there has been enough grief experienced to make even those not directly affected feel the holiday spirit dampened. There have been two deaths from cancer. One lady was rushed to the ER with multiple rattlesnake bites. Two different families have members who’ve had strokes. And one couple, 7 months pregnant, lost the baby.
How do you give thanks in those circumstances? How do you give thanks when you don’t feel very thankful?
I want to offer a few thoughts about gratitude and thankfulness that may help to put our grief and sorrow into perspective at a time when we are otherwise expected to be happy and cheerful.
First, being thankful does not deny that we have problems or pain or sorrow. We are not called upon to present a fake cheer. God is not interested in our insincere words gratitude. We need to understand that at a time when thanks and praise is the focus of the day, weeping is an acceptable act of praise. God does not expect us to hypocrites anywhere else in life, and Thanksgiving is no exception. You have permission to acknowledge your loss and grief as well as to feel it and express it. A false façade of thanksgiving help no one. Least of all you.
Second, being thankful is not determined by our place or circumstances. Feelings to not define reality. Grief does not mean you can’t be (or are not) thankful for other things. Being sorrowful does not mean there is nothing to be thankful for. And I would even say that expressions of thanks through grief are all the more praiseworthy. Too much of our lives are guided by and based on our immediate feelings in the moment. You can be sorrowful over one thing and thankful over another. There is no conflict. You’re allowed to have both.
Third, being thankful is an admission of God’s presence and His goodness. God is not a fair-weather friend. He does not abandon us through the hard times. It may be easier to see and acknowledge His presence when things are going good, but He is no less present in the bad times. And the fact that bad times do come, does not change His character. If we gather on Sunday and sing and rejoice and praise Him for His goodness and graciousness and faithfulness, is God any less good or gracious or faithful when trials come on Monday? Our circumstances do no change who God is. When life seems bad, God is still good.
We must remember the past mercies of God, and let those encourage us in the present and into the future.
In the Psalms we find an interesting encouragement. Psalm 137 is a song of lament. The captives from Jerusalem are in Babylon mourning for the loss of their city and their temple. They hang up their instruments, refuse to sing, and instead sit and weep. However, God knew that those times of hardship and mourning would come. That from time to time we would find ourselves in a Psalm 137 situation. That’s likely why He put Psalm 136 right before it.
1 Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever.
2 Oh, give thanks to the God of gods!
For His mercy endures forever.
3 Oh, give thanks to the Lord of lords!
For His mercy endures forever
And it continues like that for 26 verses … “His mercy endures forever.”
Our present hardship does not change that. Psalm 30:5 is able to proclaim that “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” BECAUSE of what Psalm 136 proclaims … “His mercy endures forever.”
How can we know that joy comes in the morning? Because His mercy endures forever.
There is no point where God will run out of patience or stamina or supply of mercy and comfort and grace. His mercy endures forever … our pain does not.
The legitimate and necessary sorrow that we may feel over current circumstances does not change God or His goodness. It does not negate the blessings and mercies of the past. Even amidst our pain we are surrounded by God’s blessings. His grace. His salvation. His gift of life. The joys we’ve had before (and will have again). The ever present blessing of a loving church family to stand beside us and weep with us.
This Thanksgiving, if you need to weep, weep! Let’s take not only our joys to God in praise. Let’s also take our sorrows. Let’s bring our broken hearts and rejoice in the God who heals broken hearts. We do not need to ignore or deny our sorrow. We can give thank even in the midst of our sorrow, because His mercy endures forever.