Honestly, I don’t feel like giving thanks this year. Yep. You read that right. I don’t FEEL like giving thanks. That doesn’t mean I won’t or don’t want to but I’m learning that being thankful comes from something deeper than what I feel at the moment or even during a season of life.
For those of us who read the bible with any regularity, we know the multitude of verses that instruct us to give thanks and be thankful. Paul tells us something that’s often cited and shared about being thankful. First he says to, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thes 5:18, ESV). Then, he instructs the Believers in Ephesus to be, “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 5:18, ESV) as they walk in a world that is filled with difficulties and evil.
Today is Thanksgiving. This has been my favorite holiday. Of course I love Christmas and Easter. But, there is something about Thanksgiving that has always been deeply meaningful. But, since 2009 it’s been harder to be thankful. Harder is not bad. It’s just, well, hard.
2009 is the year Sue’s mother (Peg) died of cancer. Her battle was short. Sue was with her mother during Thanksgiving that year and her mother died on the Saturday following Thanksgiving day. Then, in 2010, exactly one year later, Sue’s dad (Jerry) died. Another bitter sweet Thanksgiving celebration. Thankful for the family we did celebrate with but deeply saddened by the loss of two incredible people in our lives. Since then, I know Thanksgiving has been that bittersweet day for Sue and her family as it has become for me. Then this Thanksgiving day has arrived. And, it seems hard to express thanksgiving. Until you remember what we are to be thankful for or why it matters.
This year will be the first Thanksgiving we don’t get to spend with our children. We had developed a tradition of running the Turkey Trot in Little Rock as a family (for those who were around). We’d get up early, gather our running gear and go together (or meet) at the starting line of the Trot. Here was our last TurkeyTrot from 2015
The TurkeyTrot has only been a tradition for the past few years. It wasn’t the run but that we did it together. When I got up right at 8am this morning (after a tough night sleeping), I immediately thought about my 2 daughters who were just starting the run at 7 in Little Rock. I’m not thankful we didn’t get to do it this year. That’s the honest truth. But, before you write me off as someone who’s gone off the deep end, please read on.
As I think about the words of Paul regarding the need to be thankful at all times in all circumstances and then of David who continually expressed his thankful heart in Psalms, I’m brought to a deeper, more personal level of what (I think) being thankful requires. It requires an object outside of my circumstances.
Let’s face it, it’s a lot easier (or at least it has been for me) to be thankful when the house was abuzz with my kids laughing, eating, joking, and yes even bickering a bit. It was much easier to express outward thanks when Sue was in the kitchen cooking with the help of the kids, when we knew the whole family would be together at some point during the day. But, this year, as we sit with no plans of being visited, no traditional Thanksgiving food in the refrigerator and nothing planned for the day it’s much harder to utter thanks (we do THANK two sweet families that invited us to be with them today–so we did choose to be alone this Thanksgiving for personal reasons but are grateful for people who wanted to share this day with us). So, if I simply examine our circumstances this Thanksgiving day, I’m finding it hard to give thanks.
I’m sure we will talk/Facetime with our kids at some point (or sure hope we do). It’s just not like being with them. In all of this, I feel a deeper compassion for so many who have experienced Thanksgiving day without loved ones. In my own family, my mom spends another Thanksgiving alone in Texas while my dad does the same in Arizona. They may eat with friends but it’s another year without family on a traditionally family-focused holiday. I’m wondering how hard they might have found it to be thankful when they were alone the first few years. It’s new for me. And, I’m finding it hard to feel thankful.
If I ended the post here, you might be worried about my emotional state. Let me assure you I’m doing fine. God is doing a deeper thing in me this Thanksgiving. He’s showing me that I need to learn to be thankful for the right reasons. It’s not that I wasn’t truly thankful for the days we spent with family over the years on Thanksgiving. I was. Really. But, in the midst of not having that same sweet time with them, I’m learning that I can’t base my thankfulness on having them near. I am certainly thankful for each of them. I love them immensely. And, I’m thankful for the years we’ve had together. But, I’m not thankful we’re alone this year. Sorry, but it’s the raw truth. Yet, what God seems to be screaming into my mind is that being thankful is a state of mind, a condition of the heart and not a feeling of the moment. What I’m really thankful for is that in the midst of feeling lonely or distant, when we had to say good-bye to Sue’s parents in consecutive years or when tough times befall us, I have Him. God is the object of my gratitude. When life stinks or things don’t go as we desire saying we are “thankful” is much harder. But it is much more gratifying to know that we can truly be thankful to have a God who is always the same. He stands firm though our situation doesn’t. He loves completely when mine is conditional. He overcomes fear when it grips me.
When all is considered, I’m still thankful for so much this Thanksgiving. I wish we had just completed another Turkey Trot with our kids. I wish there was the smell of a turkey baking in the oven and sounds of laughter emanating throughout the house. It would make it so much easier to be thankful, if that’s what being thankful means. But, I’m learning that it means much more than that and is based on something much deeper than my wide ranging emotion. It’s a condition that I need to cultivate daily. Thankfulness might be more widely expressed on a day set aside for it. But, true thankfulness happens when we ground it in the One who is worthy of my gratitude, no matter my situation. And, He is the provider of all the good things in my life that I am, indeed, thankful for. To all who read this and who God has placed in our path please know how thankful I am to Him for doing so. We have been enriched in this life with many friends who have shown love and care for us. To our children, we are immeasurably grateful for God giving you to us. We are extremely grateful for our family in other states. Thank you for being supportive and loving over the years.
This will be a hard Thanksgiving (it has been already). But, I have a feeling that I’ll look back and see how God used this trying time to help me grow deeper into being a man of gratitude and looking at all things through a new lens. It is really for Him my heart swell with gratitude, no matter where we are or what we are doing. As David so often concludes in the Psalms, “Thanks be to God alone”.
Happy Thanksgiving to all. If you’re alone like we are (or even more alone because you aren’t with someone at all), I pray you also sense God’s presence in this midst of your loneliness. He indeed has to be the grounding of your gratitude and not your circumstances. May He be your peace today and everyday.