Well, Thanksgiving Day’s upon us. In a few hours, most of us will hopefully be gazing at each other from over-filled plates at crowded tables. In the midst of the hustle and bustle before the great feast, most of us will take a moment to offer a blessing, a moment of thanks for this year’s provisions. It’s a tradition that dates back to Pilgrim days.
And yet, I’m not sure that I’m entirely thankful.
It’s easy to take a moment and stop to count the things that we’re thankful for. A roof over our heads. Clothes on our backs. Family and friends that surround us. While we don’t do it often enough, thanking God for the basics seems easy enough. We also might express genuine gratitude when things turn out our way, when an unexpected blessing arrives in our lives, when we narrowly escape bad fortune. The words “thank you” seem natural, appropriate.
But then there are the many moments when we aren’t thankful. When we hear news of family members diagnosed with cancer, when parents hold stillborn children in their arms, when gunmen walk into concert halls with guns drawn and let their bullets fly. When today’s troubles make it hard to get out of bed, when we are crippled by depression and anxiety, when we have no halfway decent plans for our futures, when we feel unloved and entirely unlovely. Life hits us, and it hits hard.
A trite and altogether trivial way to give thanks in these situations might be to “count your blessings” and remember that “things could always be worse.” We’re told to shut down our feelings with a forced “attitude of gratitude.” Instead of healing, I’ve found that this mindset only breeds resentment and bitterness under a thin veneer of false optimism.
The problem is, God never told us to be grateful that bad things aren’t worse. He flat-out told us to be grateful for the bad things. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says to “give thanks in all circumstances.” If you didn’t think this was explicit enough, James 1:2 says to “consider it pure joy when you are faced with trials of many kinds…”
Am I the only one who finds that a little hard to swallow?
It seems like God’s asking for a lot when he asks us to accept and be grateful for the very things that cause us to recoil in pain. The things that make us doubt His goodness, His mercy, His love. The things we try at all costs to mask and avoid because to accept them would accept being broken.
But what if being thankful in being broken was the first step to being made whole?
I don’t know if I know everything about life (in fact, I am twenty years old. I KNOW I don’t know everything about life). But I do know that I am probably in one of the most spiritually uncomfortable places I’ve ever been. Don’t be fooled by social media—there are days when it’s even hard to make eye contact with people because of how low I have felt. To be thankful for being this place seems absurd. But in it, I have found the essence of humility that comes with experiencing God. I’ve found that if I unclench my grasping fists enough to surrender control of my life, I can place it into more capable hands. And I’ve found that yes, there is a little bit more hope that comes with each day, and maybe it’s that little accumulation of better and better days that means recovery. It means healing. It means life.
There are a lot of people that weighed heavy on my heart as I was writing this. I know you are hurting so deeply, and some of you are going through things that I can only imagine. I’m not going to sit here and invalidate your pain by asking you to be grateful that it’s not worse. But I am asking you to pause and consider that maybe, just maybe, this brokenness is where God’s work begins. At the moments it feels like He has abandoned us—and trust me, I know how that feels—he begins the long and slow process of binding up our wounds and clothing us in His grace. I hope that in the midst of these times you’ll allow yourself to take a moment from dwelling in darkness and open yourself to the possibility of new light. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll come to a point where you might not be thankful for the pain, but for the person you became in spite of it.
This may have been a more somber start to your Thanksgiving than you might have hoped, but it’s a message that’s been placed on my heart and I thought was worth sharing. Keep it in mind, eat delicious things, hug your family, and be blessed.