Each year as Thanksgiving approaches and I start to review all my blessings, I stumble on this from St. Paul:
“In everything give thanks.” (1 Thess. 5:18). Everything? You’ve got to be kidding me. When things go wrong, I’m supposed to give thanks? When my husband is laid off and no jobs are in sight? When the mortgage is underwater? When illness strikes and the pain won’t go away?
Paul goes on: We are to give thanks in all situations because “this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” I used to wonder whether that means it’s God’s will for me to give thanks, or that the situation is God’s will for me and it will work for my eventual good. Either way, I’ve learned that it is precisely by giving thanks in the difficult times of our lives, that our hearts are lifted above the situation. Having a thankful heart is not only appropriate in good times, it can help us survive the bad.
There’s a powerful example of this at the Yad VaShem Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem, which I wrote about in “Psalms the School of Prayer”:
As you leave [the museum], there is painted on the wall in red and black letters a prayer. The refrain “And praised … be … the Lord” is interrupted by a litany of the names of prison camps:
“And praised. Auschwitz. Be. Magdenek. The LORD. Treblinka. And praised. Buchenwald. Be. Mauthhausen. The LORD. Belzec. And praised. Sobibor. Be. Chelmno. The LORD. Ponary. …”
… Is the author praising God for prison camps? Far from it. This prayer/poem isolates those evil camps and plunges them into the midst of the praises, surrounding them in the greater power of God and His good. It is cathartic to read. The longer you read it, the more it strengthens you and gives you hope. Try inserting your own trials in the spaces below, and praying it: “And praised __________. Be ________. The Lord. _______.” Amen.
(This appears in Session 2 of the Great Adventure Catholic Bible study on Psalms, for which I wrote the study materials and Jeff Cavins and Tim Gray present the teaching on video.)
God willing, no one reading this will ever have to confront the depth of suffering represented by that poem. But in the dark patches of your life, think of the Jews and praise the Lord, taking care to give thanks “in everything.” If they can do it – so can we.