Thanksgiving Day rolls around regardless of events, and some years it’s easier to get in the spirit than others. This is one of the hard ones. Mark died just four weeks ago, and there’s been barely time to grieve. I am prepared to give thanks for his life; for 35 years of marriage and all that came from them; for Mark’s witness to God’s faithful care even in his suffering. But he is not here, my heart cries, and I am. Don’t expect me to be thankful now!
How can I be thankful when I’m sad?
I’m not feeling grateful. But St. Paul tells us,
“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18, emphases mine).
Really? That’s the will of God?
I know he means the giving thanks and not the circumstances. But I need help with that, and turn to the Psalms.
Psalm 137 meets me where I am…
Psalm 137 resonates with me today. It meets me where I am. It’s the one “by the waters of Babylon,” where the exiled people of Israel weep as they think of Jerusalem, which has been destroyed. Their captors demand that they laugh and sing. “How shall we sing?” they ask in torment (vs. 4). They will never forget the city they love!
The psalmist ends in rage against their enemies. It’s not a place I want to go in my heart, however much I can identify. But I can’t help noticing the psalm’s placement in the Bible.
…between two psalms that help to set me straight
Psalm 137 is sandwiched between 136, the “Great Hallel” psalm that calls us to thank God for his goodness and mercy which permeate all of history, even times of distress; and 138, which might be the psalmist’s personal response to that summons. Repeatedly he gives thanks to the Lord, who sustains him “though I walk in the midst of trouble” (vs. 7).
If you, like me, seek to drown your grief in gratitude this week, I recommend these Psalms. Read them in your Bible (not on the internet) so you can more easily see the flow between them.
- Start with 136 and its call to praise, noting the reasons given.
- Continue with 137 and allow yourself to feel the pain … and then continue on:
- Read 138 slowly several times. Notice that the author’s thanks doesn’t start with his own feeling. Rather, it’s rooted in truths about God. This thanksgiving isn’t a gush of emotion, it’s a deliberate, overt proclamation. List the things the psalmist is grateful for; the reasons he gives for giving thanks; the benefits to his relationship with God. Read again and listen. What touches your heart? How?
Notice how both the psalmist in 138, and Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5, end at the same place: with God’s faithfulness to those he loves. He will be faithful to you! Resolve to give thanks even as you walk in the midst of trouble. Thank God for who he is and all he’s done and promised. Plunge your grief into the ocean of his love and let it console you.
© 2022 Sarah Christmyer
+ + + + + + +
Continue meditating on these thanksgiving Psalms and prayer:
You might also like these:
- Thanks-Giving: the Door to Happy Holidays (when grudges threaten family gatherings)
- Giving Thanks in Good Times and in Bad (the extraordinary example of the Jews)
- Practicing Gratitude — Grace Before Meals (more on 1 Thessalonians 5:18)
- Thanks (for Nothing?) Learn the Power of Praise (thanksgiving as a sacrifice)