We have a rule in our family.
Well, let’s be honest, (I grew up Nazarene); we have a lot of rules.
But our rule is this: no skipping over Thanksgiving.
This is specifically my mom’s rule, but since “Thou shalt honor thy father and mother” is also a biggie, that means mom’s rules trump all others.
This is one of the reasons why I’m waiting till December 1st to release my Christmas album (surprise! I’m releasing my Christmas album December 1st!)
My mom is a woman of great faith. She’s also a prayer warrior. As a child, I was intimidated to pray out loud because I didn’t think I could ever possibly pray a prayer that could rival any of hers (I’ve since learned that’s not the goal of prayer).
But what do you do when you’re all prayed out & out of faith?
You give thanks.
Let me explain.
Contrary to what the majority of us saw on our Instagram & Facebook feeds on Thursday, Thanksgiving is never picture perfect. Sure, we make it appear as though it were, but behind every picture of a happy couple giving thanks is the fight that proceeded or preceded that picture. Behind every image of the perfect Thanksgiving dish is the one of the burnt, Pinterest fail rotting in the trash bin (I burnt candied walnuts this year).
Thanksgiving is no different than any other day; all prone to chaos and distress.
Even though you didn’t see it on your feed, many people spent the night in the ER with a family member. Even though you didn’t see it, many people had a few empty chairs at the table due to a death or family discord. Even though you didn’t see it, many people scrimped and saved to put any food on the table at all.
I’ve had some great Thanksgivings, but I’ve also had some tough ones. This year I spent 10 hours on my feet preparing food that meets the dietary specifications I currently have to follow for health reasons. Sure, I do my best to stay positive about it and try to turn it into a fun hobby, but it’s not always easy, and sometimes I wish I didn’t have to go to all of the trouble. That wasn’t terrible.
Then, Friday morning I woke up to a very sick dog that, for the next 48 hours, panted, paced, whined & clawed at me as she tried to pass a kidney stone.
Holidays aren’t always perfect.
No days are perfect, and it can feel worse when perpetuated by the illusion we all advertise on social media.
It’s been a tough one. I’ve had far worse Thanksgivings in the past. And, I know I haven’t even had it anywhere near as difficult as some.
So how do we give Thanks when our Thanksgiving doesn’t meet the Instagram-able, Hallmark card standard?
Today I’m reminded of a time of breaking bread and giving Thanks long ago, only this story didn’t involve pilgrims:
“He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then He broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” ~Luke 22:19
It’s easy to read this passage of scripture and only see the prayer of thanks as a prayer before a meal, but today I see it as something very different; Jesus thanking God for His future suffering. The bread represented a body. His body. His body that was about to be flogged whipped, beaten, and nailed to a cross. And He thanked God.
It’s easy to thank God for blessings. It’s difficult to thank Him for suffering. And yet, that is the manifesto of the upside down kingdom:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” ~James 1:2-3
Thanking God for trials is the last thing we feel like doing when we’re walking through them. In fact, the idea of it seems downright masochistic. But gratitude is not just something we should do to remember all that we have to be thankful for; it is a powerful weapon, and sometimes our only weapon against the attacks of the Enemy.
In the middle of my weariness and just a total emotional breakdown, watching my poor dog anxiously panting and pacing back and forth, writhing in pain, feeling helpless and drained, my faith-filled mama prayed with me and reminded me that the best thing I can do is praise God. We praise God, because, when we are feeling hopeless, it is the only thing that will renew our hope again.
“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.” ~Romans 5:3-5
Check that out:
Trials --> Endurance --> Character --> HOPE
Praising God for our trials literally restores our hope again, even when our situation feels utterly hopeless. Because, as believers, we know that the only way our hope will remain steadfast is if we put it fully into the Rock of our salvation, Jesus Christ. When we put our hope in God, it will not waver. When we put this hope in our own abilities or anything else in this world, it will fail us every time. Jesus, however, is our confident hope:
“Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.” ~Romans 12:12
“Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later... But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.) And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”
~Romans 8:18, 20-21, 23-28 (emphasis mine)
Everything I had hoped for from the LORD is lost!” The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” The LORD is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the LORD.” ~Lamentations 3:18-26 NLT (emphasis mine)
“Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you…” ~Isaiah 30:20
So maybe this Thanksgiving, instead of turkey and stuffing, God gave you adversity for food. Perhaps instead of sparkling grape juice or the finest of red wines, you drank suffering. But we have these promises from the Lord: In this world we will have trouble, but we can take heart, because He has overcome the world (John 16:33) and, no matter what we face, He will be with you.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His faithful love endures forever.”
~ Psalm 118:1