A Fractured Thanksgiving
by Lainee Oliver
Painful seasons of sorrow and loss don’t get put on hold just because the holidays are around the corner. Suffering doesn’t cease simply because it’s Thanksgiving, and it makes me wonder: do I need to actually feel thankful in order to give thanks?
I know the examples in the Old Testament of God’s people rightly worshipping him by giving thanks and glorifying him. Slaves thank God for freeing them and once-barren women give thanks for their newborn sons. In the New Testament, blind men thank Jesus for the gift of sight. Apostles thank God for faithful churches and teachers laboring with them for the sake of the gospel.
Giving thanks makes sense to me in those circumstances. How could those people be anything but grateful for God’s obviously good gifts?
But there are other less obvious examples of people giving thanks throughout Scripture. David gives thanks to God while fearing for his life. Paul gives thanks to God while sitting in a prison cell. Jesus himself, knowing it was his last supper with his disciples, breaks bread and pours wine and gives thanks before being led to the cross like a lamb to be slaughtered. (Matt. 26:27; Luke 22:17, 19)
If Jesus gives thanks before his crucifixion, I can give thanks to God in my circumstances, even if my thanksgiving is tear-stained and fractured.
Not only do I have to remind myself of those examples of thanksgiving in scripture, I have to remind myself that God directly commands me to give thanks. I’m not only to give thanks when I am grateful for a particular set of circumstances, but God commands me to give thanks in ALL circumstances, no matter how broken that thanksgiving might sound.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”(1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18)
When I’ve been walking in what feels like the miry bog and pit of destruction David describes in Psalm 40, it’s difficult for me to “repeat the sounding joy” as the holidays approach. And yet, the Lord calls me to give thanks even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death— when I’m groping around in the dark and mysterious providence of God, desperately searching for something to hold on to. That’s when I need the reminder to give thanks to God the most.
Although my thanksgiving might be weak, I can thank God for the bedrock of my life— Jesus Christ—and that is when I find my footing in the dark.
Even when I don’t feel thankful, the Lord still calls me to give thanks. He calls me to give thanks because he is good and because his steadfast love endures forever. He works all things together for my good and for his glory, so I lift my eyes to him, grateful he hears my feeble attempts at thanksgiving. I remember that “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26b). And after that act of obedient thanksgiving, true gratitude begins to grow within me. In looking to Christ and humbly thanking him for dying a death I should have died, my faith is bolstered. When I lift my eyes heavenward, my heart follows.
Most of us have tangible things in this world to be thankful for like running water, a loved one or a few, a roof over our heads, and God’s Word in our own language. But when I don’t know where to start—how to give thanks when I can’t put my finger on something tangible that makes me feelthankful—I ask the Lord to help me give thanks in all circumstances. I thank God for his goodness. I thank God for his steadfast love. I thank him for dying the death I should have died. I thank him for his mercy. For the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. For his Church, however flawed she may be. For the promise of eternal life. For redeeming a particular people for his own. And for one day calling us home.
“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (1 Chronicles 16:34)