It’s that time of year again when we gather with family and friends and give thanks to God for all our blessings. But for those who are going through a difficult time, Thanksgiving is more of a paradox than a time for celebration.
It is easy to be thankful for good health, a loving family, caring friends and a fulfilling job. But are we supposed to be thankful for hard things too? Like a sick child turns up her nose at a foul-tasting medicine, am I supposed to give thanks for difficult circumstances because they will make me a better person? Am I to give thanks for my Father’s Alzheimer’s?
And if so, let’s not stop there. Am I to be thankful for cancer? War, human trafficking, children dying, people starving or homelessness? Am I to give thanks for the Holocaust and genocide? Not the lessons these horrible things teach us but the actual evils themselves?
Of course not.
Paul writes in I Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
We are instructed to give thanks in all things, not for all things.
This is more than a “glass-half-full” attempt to fixate on the silver lining of every hard thing we face. Rather, it is a humbling act of willful surrender to the sovereignty of God. God is not raining down difficult things in our lives as some sort of Cosmic Kill-joy. He is allowing these circumstances to bring us to a place of total dependence on Him.
When you choose to give thanks in a difficult situation, you are positioning yourself in a place of trust. ‘God, I don’t understand this, but You do so I’m going to trust You to hold me together and help me through it.’
Giving thanks is not some meek utterance of counting our blessings. It is a powerful act that changes the spiritual atmosphere around you.
When Paul and Silas were severely flogged and thrown into prison with hands chained and feet in stocks, they chose to pray and sing hymns. The result? An earthquake so violent that it shook the prison’s foundations and broke off chains, setting everyone free.
It’s true that giving thanks in hard times goes against logic. My Father has Alzheimer’s. I know what that path looks like. I’ve read the science and know the heartache this disease causes. I watched my paternal grandmother suffer for ten years in a nursing home before succumbing to Alzheimer’s. And I watched my Father’s sister fight it before dying earlier this year.
But sometimes we can become so engrossed in our circumstances that what we really need is perspective.
I got that earlier this month as I sat in the back of a church full of people who’d come to pay their last respects to a sweet woman who loved deeply and gave freely. A friend of our family’s for more than 30 years, Mary had fallen down some stairs at home, suffered a brain injury and never recovered. She was only 72.
One day she was in church, the next day she was in the hospital. One day she was having lunch with her family, the next day she was being fed through tubes, fighting for her life. One day she was here, the next she was gone.
There is nothing like a funeral to put giving thanks into perspective.
If I had to choose between my Father having Alzheimer’s or leaving us now for his eternal home, I’d choose where he is now. He is not in pain and enjoys life. He still has his independence and knows who we are. And those are the things I’m thankful for.
I know there will be a day when I will sit in the front of a church with my family celebrating my Father’s life. But for every day I have with him before that day comes, I will give thanks.