Because of personal and corporate tragedies, large or small, some of us might find ourselves “Thanksgiving” during this holiday with a kind of emptiness. Loneliness, isolation, reversals, broken hearts, dashed expectations, failed marriages, ill health, grinding poverty, career upsets, accidents and deaths of loved ones, obstacles and disappointments over our own goals, investment reversals—all and any of these constitute possible sources of deep personal anguish, pushing thoughts of any sort of “thanksgiving” far away (at least in our hearts, even if we attend a dinner dedicated to that purpose).
In sadness, on a day like today we might find ourselves casting around furtively for something to be thankful for, but feel like we are scraping the bottom of the barrel. We might conclude that we could muster thankfulness for two good legs and blue sky. But what if even those things, too, were taken away from us? We break a leg or we are robbed of blue sky by prolonged inclement weather. We see readily that if we are to be thankful it will have to be rooted in something other than our circumstances.
The challenge of whether to be thankful or not is really a question put to us not for a day but for a lifetime. The issue of thankfulness doesn’t stop in 24 hours. We will face it ongoingly in old age when we find ourselves living on a shrinking island of diminishing personal faculties and capabilities. Will we choose to be grateful then?
Ultimately we must realize that thanksgiving or bitterness are relational terms. We do not sit as repositories of these conditions. These are thoughts with a destination. They are aimed somewhere, initially perhaps at people, but finally at God Himself.
Whether we know it or not, at the core of this issue sits another issue. To solve how we will position our soul, not just for today but for a lifetime, whether in gratefulness or despair, we must address the issue of personal suffering.
Real thanksgiving, the kind that gives unfathomable repose to the soul, day in and day out, is only possible if we believe in a God who created us and that He created us for a purpose. But how do we get-to/arrive confidently at that thought?
Let’s stop and fathom our anatomy for a minute. The very creation of our anatomy belies a purpose not just for our internal organs but for our entire existence. There sits the organ, and then there is what the organ does. So there we, too, sit—but over time it slowly dawns on us that we were designed for a great purpose, far outside of ourselves. And it is not just a purpose of function, but of being. We were designed for a relational purpose. We discover through the Bible that we were created for the praise of His glory…“to love God and enjoy him forever,” says the old Westminster Catechism.
Why? Because He first loved us.
The problem is that we don’t now see the whole story. It is hidden from us for a season, and for some exalted reason. Can we not imagine that if God took such great pains to design us in such detail, He has also calculated how suffering in the tender matters of the heart would ultimately benefit us?
Imagine ourselves shipwrecked—that we’ve come from somewhere and are going somewhere, but for now we finger lost treasures in the sand. Perhaps we have “fallen” from something?
The very existence of some good in the world—a kind gesture from a stranger, a beautiful sunset—gives rumor to the full-orbed story that we shall yet see in another realm, at another time. This, then, is the season of trust. We must believe that God suffers with us, loves us deeply, and is in some mysterious way inculcating our sufferings into eternal benefit for us.
His purposes for us are greater than we can now imagine. This, then, is what we can be thankful for, through all conditions. The habitation of Thanksgiving can be our home; we can confidently park at that address, not only for today but for a lifetime.
PS: to read more thoughts on the topic of loneliness, read our new 12-page eBook, The Way out of Loneliness.