We are thankful that all our extended family live nearby, and that we could share our Thanksgiving feast with them. But I threw a bit of a curve into our conversation as we dove into the turkey and dressing.
“Here’s a question,” I said. “In the Bible, Paul says we should ‘give thanks in everything.’ He says that’s the will of God for us. But was he kidding? Paul was facing torture and jail. He wasn’t very realistic was he? How can we give thanks ‘in everything’ when some things are very hard, and often seem very bad?”
We tossed that around and finally agreed: while we can’t always be thankful for everything, we can find something to be thankful for in everything.
This week I asked our friend Mary how she could be thankful when tests showed her cancer had returned and she may need more treatment. After a moment she quietly said, “I am thankful for my husband Tom. He’s with me, has my back, and helps me to talk through all the options. I am thankful for all the friends, my little angels, who support me.”
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Last Monday a pastor friend called. He had just preached at the funeral for the wife of one of his best friends. I asked him that same question. “Hmm,” he said, “that will be my question for this week.” Then, after a pause, he said, “I am thankful that I have a friend, a brother in ministry, to care for.”
On a wider scale, how can we be thankful for the most brutal election we have ever experienced (except that it’s over!) or for the divisiveness in Washington? Yet this week I learned that for two years a bipartisan group of congressional members and staff have been meeting in the Capitol every other week to worship and pray. It is, I was told, the first time since Thomas Jefferson the Capitol has been used for such a gathering. I hope that as they listen to the Lord they will also listen to each other.
Can we find reason for thanks here in Charlotte after the shootings and protests and near riots this fall that ripped at the fabric of our community? Perhaps we can, in that many of are listening to each other and working together in new ways toward understanding.
Finding thanks “in everything” is not easy. Fear actually narrows our field of vision, both physically and emotionally. Deep loss makes the bottom drop out. So giving thanks in hard things is not looking for a silver lining. It takes a longer, wider, deeper view, an opening of our hearts both to pain and hope. It is not simply saying “Everything happens for a purpose.” It is the faith that God can bring good even out of the worst things. To realize that may take us a long time, and for some things beyond time into eternity.
For our family, Thanksgiving is a bittersweet time. It was the day after Thanksgiving thirty-five years ago that our 21-year old-Sandy died during surgery to correct a runaway heart. Could we “give thanks” that he died that day? Not at all. But we learned to be thankful for the 21 years we had with him. For the bright and shining light he was and still is to his friends. For the vision he inspired in us to provide scholarships and mentoring to other emerging young leaders.
At times like this I often recall Corrie Ten Boom, that remarkable Dutch woman who had the courage to hide Jews from Nazis during World War II, and who herself experienced the horror of the Nazi prison camps.
“There is no pit so deep,” Corrie would say, “that God’s love is not deeper still.”
In everything, in that kind of faith, we can give thanks.
Leighton Ford of Charlotte is a Presbyterian minister known internationally as preacher, writer and mentor.