Good morning everybody!
Hopefully you are enjoying your post-Thanksgiving slumber and are relaxing with family and friends. I am having the most wonderful time with my best friend and her family in Georgia, and let me tell you, yesterday my plate was FULL of delicious things. It got me thinking about the art of being thankful, which reminded me of Thanksgivings back home as a kid growing up in Wisconsin.
As a child, I hated green beans. It didn’t matter if they were disguised in some dish or by themselves, or if I was promised dessert after or threatened with no dinner. There was just no way that I was going to eat those little green creatures stacked like soldiers across my plate. I rolled my eyes every time I was told that “vegetables are good for your health” and during Thanksgiving, when we had green bean casserole, I made sure to silently exclude it from the litany in my head: “God, thank you for this food…except the green beans.”
Now that I am grown up and so many things have changed, it was fun to see those same little green soldiers that I once despised placed deliberately there, a reminder of Thanksgivings past. However, I’ve since acquired a taste for green beans, and yes, I do see their health value (which doesn’t mean that I’m not balancing it out by eating enough bread to feed five families).
Acquiring a taste or appreciation for things takes time. And if you’re anything like me, there have been several things that life has served up to us that we have not been grateful for. And it doesn’t matter if it comes disguised as a lost friendship or lost job, a bad breakup or a crippling health condition, a struggle with self-depression or a daily battle with the devil. There are things that downright threaten to destroy us and make it hard for us to see anything else on our plates. And when we lay down at night, it’s the one thing in our head that we want to exclude from the list, to remain bitter about, to be eternally unthankful for.
Paul experienced something similar during his life. Although he was persecuted, jailed, and bullied for his faith, there’s one thing in particular that seems to get to him. In 2 Corinthians 12, he writes that “in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” (vs. 7, NIV) We don’t know if this thorn in the flesh was an actual physical ailment, a person that he just couldn’t seem to please, or a spiritual assailant that made getting up in the mornings hard. Paul seemed pretty persistent in removing this from his grateful list, and asking the Lord to spare him from the pain of this unwanted burden: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.” (v. 8, emphasis mine) What an absolute cry of the heart. As I read that verse, I think about friends that I have held in my lap and consoled through divorces and losses, people around the world who have endured wars and outbreaks that no person should ever have to go through, and many, many nights in my own bedroom this spring, where all I could seem to cry was “God, there is no purpose in this pain. Please, if you love me, take this away from me.”
Our Heavenly Father seems to have other plans. God doesn’t respond to Paul’s request by taking it away, but here is the important thing: He does respond. In verse 9, God says to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” What an incredible promise. In all of our inadequacies, God is undyingly faithful and gracious. And that grace is enough. But we cannot see this perfect grace without trial. The second part of that verse is an uncomfortable truth: God can only show us that He has it all together only when we admit that we don’t. We have to swallow our bitter pride and realize that God is the giver of all things, even the things we don’t want to be grateful for right now. We also have to come to grips with the fact that there are some things that won’t ever be fixed, things that will remain thorns in our side for years, maybe even a lifetime.
We cannot control our circumstances. But we can control our attitude and obedience to the God who went through the worst kind of pain, suffering, and abandonment simply for the right to call us His. And if we lean into Him, we can learn to become grateful for the green beans—thankful for the things that, for now, as little children, we cannot see the purpose in or benefit of. But learning to eat this yucky spiritual food develops in us perseverance, which will “finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4, NIV) And maybe, just maybe, we will be lucky enough to see someday how those green beans were growing us up good and strong, good and strong in the faithful love of Lord Jesus.
Today, I encourage you to take the time to pray for all the things that you might have skipped over during Thanksgiving. Thank God for the unknowables, unattainables, and yes, the un-fixables in your life. My prayers as of late go a little like this: “Dear God, I thank you for these things in my life. While I would never ask for them again, I know that You are using them to develop and strengthen me. Help me to learn to be grateful for these things, even when I don’t see the value in them now. Thank you, Lord, for using all things to work together for my good and Your glory.”
It’s my prayer for you that during this season of celebration and gratefulness that we will not ignore the suffering that is woven in to each of our lives. I pray that we will not run from suffering but embrace it as a sign that God is good enough to work in the bad things and sufficient for us in all times and circumstances.
Be warm and grateful and blessed during this holiday season.