Thanksgiving is approaching once again. No matter who we are or what position we find ourselves in, there are reasons for which to be thankful. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (RSVCE).
I am thankful for the freedom to practice my religion, the roof over my head, the food I have to eat, my mom to care for me and help me in my limitations, and for the people in my life who support me and make me laugh, among other things. There’s that tricky little word “all” in that scripture verse, though. The fact remains that once again this year, I haven’t yet gotten what I wanted, what I’ve begged God for: a healthy, pain-free life. I long for a Thanksgiving at which I can give thanks for that, as I could easily shout thanksgiving from the mountaintops in that case, but that has not happened yet for me in over 18 years now. I’m still in the trenches of pain, suffering, limitations, and loss, and I end my days not knowing how I can go on, yet I do with God’s grace.
The annoying thing is that there’s nothing like chronic suffering to make you take a second (or 99th) look at the movements of your heart!
Are there things for which I’m grateful? Absolutely. There are always blessings, always things that could be worse. But how often have I used my desires and personal longings as the standards and benchmarks for giving thanks? Sure, it’s easy to be thankful when you get what you want, but what happens when you don’t? Am I less thankful to God when I don’t get what I want? It’s easy to give thanks when you see the good, when you see His hand at work, when you see the immediate benefit. Just hop on social media to see the enormous joy when someone gets married, has a baby, or recovers from surgery- all wonderful things for which to be thankful. I am glad to see so many people celebrating and giving thanks for those gifts, as those are beautiful things. Amen! But my not having those things has made me reassess and has caused (okay, forced!) me to make a conscious effort to redirect my heart. If I only see God’ glory in the ways in which I asked to see it, in the ways in which it’s easy to see it, in the ways that would fill the desires of my (human) heart, wouldn’t that minimize His glory, as if it was dependent on circumstances? The fact is that God is far bigger and far more powerful than circumstances, than what I can see. His glory is not dependent on what I can see. So, while we should definitely give thanks for what we can see, we are also called to give thanks in all things, for His glory and love for us do not change. I am learning that I should not use my current circumstances as a measure (or lack thereof) of His love, and that is quite a difficult lesson for me 18+ years into chronic suffering. I never knew how conditional my love for the Lord was until I was stripped of the “normal” things in life, the things that are so easy to take for granted.
God’s now calling me to a more challenging type of thanksgiving- the type which centers around things that aren’t as tangible in my limited human capacity, the type that isn’t what the world appreciates, and the type in which the desires of my heart have not yet been fulfilled. It’s a process of purifying my intentions, and realizing just how much, even though I was completely unaware, my thanksgiving used to be dependent on receiving what I asked for instead of on who God is and His love for me. I’m definitely not thankful for the pain, but I’m thankful for His glory in the midst of the pain, as well as the ways in which He is working that I cannot see.
Instead, this is an opportunity for me to trust, for me to give thanks for His glory in the ways in which I can’t always or don’t often see it manifested. The call is an invitation to praise Him even though I haven’t gotten what I want. Can I give thanks for His glory, period? Can I trust that He is using my suffering for good? Yes, I see the ways in which I am growing in empathy, compassion, and understanding from the long-suffering I am enduring, and occasionally I see how He is using my experiences to help others during their trials. The fact remains, however, that He is using me and giving me the opportunity to grow in a multitude of ways in which I can’t see or understand, and I need to be thankful for those too. We can’t see on earth the fruits of offering up our suffering for others and for the salvation of souls, but that is far more important than so many “tangible” things we can do. My lack of knowledge of the usefulness of my suffering does not undermine what God can do with it if I offer it to Him. He just asks me to offer it up and to trust in what He does with that, regardless of what I can see or what makes sense.
My situation is extreme, but I suspect that most people can relate on some level. Even though we have things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, there are still unmet desires of our hearts, still sufferings we are enduring, still ways in which we just don’t feel God’s love or presence like we wish we did.
So, this Thanksgiving there are visible, tangible things that each of us can be thankful for, and we should always give thanks for those things, as nothing can exist without God. But the challenge posed to each of us is to also be thankful in other ways. Can we be thankful for God’s glory in the ways in which we cannot see it? Can we be thankful for the ways in which we were/are challenged this year? Can we trust God in the situations in which our prayers have not been answered like we have asked? Can we believe that God is good, even if our current circumstances and the enemy tempt us to think otherwise? Can we approach His table with thanksgiving for HIS plan, for HIS glory, and for the opportunities in which we have been given the chance to grow spiritually, as challenging as they may be?
Those are the ways in which I’m aiming to grow this Thanksgiving. I ask you to pray for me in that endeavor and to know that you are in my prayers as well!
I wrote this a couple of days ago, but He asked me to share it today. Ironically enough, I’m having an extremely hard time feeling His presence and comfort today in the ways I wish I could. Yet another opportunity for me to choose Him over my feelings, to trust Him over simply what I can see, and to give thanks for whatever He is doing with this, although unknown to me. Glory be to God.