|We’re entering that festive time of year known as “the holiday season.” We’ve just walked through Halloween and are quickly approaching Thanksgiving and Christmas. In the U.S., “the holiday season” is often characterized by spending time with family and sharing in the ups and downs of the previous 12 months.
During November, however, particular attention is paid to the notion of giving thanks, as we celebrate Thanksgiving. Around the holiday table many families take turns telling each other what they are thankful for. These proclamations usually run the gamut, including family and friends, health, general well-being, a good job, a recent vacation or many other tangible blessings.
Amidst this roundtable of thanks, however, usually runs an undertow of emotion from some people that usually goes something like this: “What do I have to be thankful for? My husband passed away this past year?” Or, “I lost my job six months ago, and I’m about to be foreclosed on by my bank. What can I possibly give thanks for?” Or even, “God, where were you when I experienced a life-changing diagnosis three months ago? I feel empty, alone, in desperation … waiting for you to comfort me.”
These are real and common emotions and predicaments felt by many. In the season of giving thanks, some might wonder how they can embrace this attitude of thanksgiving when all they feel is pain and despair.
Yet the idea of “giving thanks” is so thoroughly rooted in Scripture, it’s difficult to ignore, even when we want to pass by those verses or forget those particular episodes.
You can hardly read through the book of Psalm without reading numerous times “give thanks to the Lord.” And oftentimes, that giving thanks is wrapped around an episode of betrayal or hardship or illness or pain.
So when we read in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (emphasis added), how do we respond?
The answer will depend on our perspective.
Like many, this has not been an easy year for me, and the bitterness of the death of a loved one still strongly grips my soul. In the midst of this pain and desperation, we are asked—no, urged—to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Not just in those circumstances where we get that new job or remain healthy or watch our kids grow up to be mature and God-fearing adults.
No, we are to “give thanks” when our loved ones die, when our jobs are down-sized and even when our own lives sting with the pain of mortality.
Yet as I was reading through this section of Scripture, I realized two things that should comfort believers on this journey.
Nowhere in this section does Paul say “giving thanks” will always be easy. But he does hope that God will sanctify us completely through our ordeals. To “give thanks in all circumstances” means to allow the Holy Spirit to define and direct our relationship with Him through all sorts of trials. It doesn’t take the pain away nor does it make these difficult times move more quickly.
But Paul encourages us that God will keep us through these trials and bring us home to completion.
Secondly, and most importantly, the beginning of this chapter reminds us that we are like transients on this planet. Even though it’s nearly impossible to understand and embrace sometimes, this world is not our final resting place. We are made in the image of God and are destined to spend our lives with Him—without any more pain, hunger, despair, death or fear.
It’s much easier to embrace the idea of giving thanks regardless of our circumstances when we understand and live each day with the idea that the Savior is currently preparing a place for us, a place uniquely designed for us just as we are uniquely designed in His image.
We can give thanks in our circumstances when we understand that our future home will far surpass anything we can experience on this planet. That certainly doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it should give us insight into the future.
So with this in mind this Thanksgiving—and the entire year over—what are you thankful for?
Scott Noble is the editor for the Minnesota Christian Examiner.