Monday, November 21, 2011

Thankful for the Good...and the Not-So-Good?

This Thanksgiving Day, what will you be thankful for?

I’d like to revisit something I’ve written about before. Growing up, Thanksgiving included imagery of Pilgrims and Indians joining for a common meal; the smell of turkey roasting in the kitchen; the sound of holiday parades and football games on TV. When dinner time arrived, we bowed our heads and said a prayer of thanks. The thank-you list usually included family, a warm house, health and, of course, the food.

One thing I can’t remember our ever expressing thanks for, though: Hardships we might have been facing at the time. Yet, in the Bible we are instructed, “In everything give thanks…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

When we hear “blessings,” we think of the “good stuff” – things we like and that make us happy. If our bank accounts have a surplus, we can pay our bills, are free of disease, and have our share of material possessions, we consider ourselves blessed. So we “praise God from whom all blessings flow,” as the old hymn tells us.

How do you give thanks
when you're not feeling festive?
But the admonition above is correct (in another translation, it reads, “give thanks in all circumstances”), does that mean we’re also supposed to be thankful for the not-so-good stuff – financial struggles, unemployment, disease, the loss of loved ones, even family strife?

Years ago, describing his spiritual journey, an African-American friend talked about poverty and racial discrimination he endured. But with a smile he would say, “Thank you, for adversity!” Another friend who endured the horrors of World War II, numerous physical ailments and business challenges, wrote a booklet called, “Saying ‘Thank You’ Even When You Don’t Feel Thankful.”

I think there’s validity to both responses. In my experience, when things go well, I’m tempted to pat myself on the back and take the credit. But when hardships occur, difficulties suddenly spinning out of control, that’s when I’m reminded of how desperately I need to rely on God. I believe the Scripture passage that says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13), but lest I forget, life’s tough times reaffirm what Jesus said in John 15:5: “…apart from Me you can do nothing.”

Like a tree that grows especially strong and hardy because of adverse weather and environmental conditions, God often uses adversity to mold and refine us into the men and women He desires for us to become.

So this Thursday, as you gather with family and other loved ones, I hope things are going well and you have much for which to be thankful. But if you face nagging challenges that defy immediate resolution – perhaps even seem hopeless – I’d encourage you to give thanks for those as well. God promises to walk with us through our trials. “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

As the refrain from the wonderful praise song states, “When you don’t see His plan, when you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart.” For that we can be thankful.

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