What If You're Not Thankful?
Thanksgiving is upon us. A time for families to come together with grateful hearts, and share a meal. Maybe you’re excited by the thought of turkey and pumpkin pie and a chance to reflect on all the good in your life.
But what if you’re not?
What if there’s no good in your life?
What if you’re not thankful?
“My dear niece, what are you thankful for this year?”
There it is. You see the words tumbling off your great uncle’s lips as if in slow motion. You’ve prepared for this moment but still you freeze. You stare at this man—his rosy cheeks and the red-wine twinkle in his eyes. Moments pass. You watch as his argyle wrapped arm waves at you, accompanied by a questioning up-turn of his bushy eyebrow. You observe this just in time to realize that you’re late to answer. But still you’re frozen. Seconds stretch out before you like freshly pulled taffy and as you consider his question, you find yourself, quite curiously, becoming irritated. What business does this distant, hardly-related relation have asking you such a question?
Heat rises in your cheeks. He must know that nothing is going right for you this year. He can’t really pretend that he hasn’t heard of your misfortunes, for surely they have been passed hand to hand, ear to ear, across the extended family gossip network. For a split second, you actually wonder if he’s asking you the question sarcastically.
Your face is now so ruddy with anger that it quite rivals the coloring of your great uncle. It’s particularly irksome that your grief is not only violated as it is casually passed around from cousin to aunt, a tantalizing treat of information, but that now everyone acts as though everything is normal. As though you should feel normal.
As if the burdens from which you have begged relief have been lifted, instead of cruelly pressed down harder on your shoulders.
As if in asking for this cup of suffering to be passed, it has, instead of being forced down your throat once, and then twice more.
They act as though, just like every other year, you should be ready with your bland little list of gratitudes, when you would much rather author a list of grievances that you are not thankful for. Wouldn’t that be something to gossip about! You’d share your sacrilegious work, and then watch your uncle grow increasingly more uncomfortable, his color fading to a pale, beads of sweat collecting on his brow, nervously avoiding your eye contact. That would show him. That would teach him not to ask silly questions.
He’ll get a poisonous dose of reality when he sees that not every Christian is endlessly joyful, optimistic and thankful for their daily bread. He will realize that hypothetical buoy of a believer—determinedly bobbing back up after each crashing wave—does not exist. That if they did, they would be a fool not to give in and give up.
He would finally understand that no one on earth who has been bludgeoned and barraged with suffering on all sides, as you have, would ever be able to answer that cliché question without employing the bitterest of sarcasm.
You are left breathing heavily, exhausted as your internal, crazed rampage fades. You close your eyes, inhale deeply, and suddenly, like ink on paper, an image seeps into your mind. A dim sketch at first, that quickly begins to take on depth and texture. Color starts to spread across the image, like a spark of fire burning along the edge of a sheet of paper. And just like that, it’s complete. A man, bent over on his knees, in a lush garden. His face is up-turned and drops of blood and water stand out starkly against his ashen skin. His face is pain, a mask of agony. His lips are parted as he pleads with an invisible oppressor.
Abruptly the image moves, changes. The suffering man’s chin lowers, his eyes toward the ground, his hands resting on his knees, palms up to the sky. Finally comes his voice, calm, submissive and unwavering, “Yet not what I will, but what You will.”
Your eyes snap open, and you begin to realize a great many things, all at once.
There was a man on earth. A man who suffered more than you, more in fact, than you could ever imagine. And He suffered willingly. Because He loves you and because He trusted the Father’s design. He gave everything for you, the one lost sheep.
Yes, you suffer. But he was the Great Sufferer. He knows your pain and has made a way for you to escape it.
This life may bring wave after wave of crashing, suffocating pain. But there is one who offers you an anchor in the storm, and the hope and promise of calm, glassy seas.
A smile, small but very much there, gradually forms on your lips. You turn towards your poor uncle with fresh resolve.
“I know what I’m thankful for, Uncle.”
“When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their trouble. The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34: 17-18, ESV)