It was the week before Thanksgiving and we were anything but thankful. Everything that could go wrong had, it seemed. We were broke, deep in debt, stuck in a bad job, a thousand miles from home and expecting our second child at any time.
Mother came out to help and together we cooked a turkey and set out the china. It was lovely and should have cheered me up, but the meal felt like a front. It was an attempt to be on the outside what we were not on the inside: thankful! We felt sick inside. Yet we said our thanksgiving prayers, worked to pull blessings from the sea of misfortune we felt like we were drowning in.
Was that hypocritical? If we don’t feel thankful, why should we give thanks?
Scripture is full of examples of people giving thanks almost because things are going wrong. It’s almost like thanksgiving is a way to ask for help — the proper attitude for approaching God when we’re in need.
Jesus modeled that attitude when he faced thousands of hungry, hurting people and had just a few fish and bread loaves to share. He took the loaves, and when he had given thanks he started passing them out: enough for all and lots left over! (See John 6:1-14). The miracle came after the thanks.
St. Paul knew the importance of giving thanks first when he wrote to the beleaguered Christians in Philippi:
“Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to. God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
On the flip side, he warned Timothy about the times of stress to come in the “last days,” when people will be (among other things) ungrateful . . . holding the form of religion but denying the power of it” (see 2 Tim 3:1-5).
Perhaps failing to be thankful when things are hard is like denying the power of God.
When we make ourselves give thanks and there’s nothing obvious to give thanks for, we have to recall God’s love and mercy and greatness. We must remind ourselves of his promise to be with us always, to bring comfort and peace. It’s on the basis of who he is and what he has done and promised that we can ask in confidence for help. That’s what gives us hope!
Maybe that’s why God calls thanksgiving a sacrifice:
“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving . . . and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Psalm 50:14-15).
One long-ago November, we chose to do that around our Thanksgiving table. Before we even cleared the dishes, my water broke. It was a difficult delivery, but at the end we had a beautiful, big, healthy baby boy! Full of smiles and easy-tempered, Jesse lit up the dark corners of that winter.
In hindsight, I can see clearly: God was with us through it all. If the thought of Thanksgiving feels more like a hollow-day than a holiday, try offering a sacrifice of thanks to the God who loves you.
© 2018 Sarah Christmyer
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