Saint Paul said, "In everything, give thanks" (1 Thess. 5:17).
Yea right? Who does that? Give thanks for everything? Really? You've got to be kidding, Paul. Not one of your more inspiring moments, if you ask me.
For pleasures? Well, of course! For friends and family and good times! Yes. Yes. Of course, I give thanks for all those things and lots more.
That I have a job and my health? Yes. That the children seem to be doing well and the grandchildren are healthy and happy? Yes, yes. For all of this, I give thanks.
How could I not? But give thanks for everything? Come on!
Who does that? Who gives thanks for pain? For disappointments? Like the one two friends of mine must be feeling this morning? Their two-year-old daughter is being buried today after losing her two-year fight with leukemia.
Talk about a disappointment. Talk about a damn and confusing as well as unfair turn of affairs. Then some wag like Saint Paul comes along and has the audacity to suggest, "In everything, give thanks!" I hold my grandkids and smother their faces with my kisses and affection and think, "What if we were having to bury one of them today?" Even the thought is repulsive.
And yet, even as I think this, my mind goes back almost two decades ago, on the eve of another Thanksgiving, I was giving the sermon at my father's unexpected passing. I was trying to pretend I was able to handle this offense. I pretended to be strong and to have strong faith. I succeeded in holding it together for the weaker souls around me. But, all the while, I was raging inside. Screaming out at the unfairness of life. Cursing fate, and close to cursing God, and doing almost anything inside but give thanks. I had nothing for which I felt thankful.
So, how does anybody make sense of the senselessness of Saint Paul's words? How do you give thanks in all things? For all things?
Maybe there's help here...
1. Deny not what you feel right now. If you're in no mood to be thankful for all things, no need to pretend otherwise. Know what it is you're feeling right now about the situation you face. Give it a name. But, by all means, do not pretend to be thankful if you're not.
2. Accept that you are not now at the place where you can give thanks for much of anything. Do not shame yourself either. Accept instead who you are and what you're feeling now.
3. And, give yourself time. Time is a great healer of all wounds. I badly burned my hand as a child for example, when I disobeyed my mother's warning to not put my hand on the electric stove. It was still scorching hot, she warned, even though the glow had turned gray. In defiance, however, I did anyway. I cannot tell you how excruciatingly painful it was and it lasted for days. But, in time, it subsided and my hand healed. So will you.
4. This I know. You cannot imagine it now but, if you will permit yourself to feel whatever it is you feel today... if you will not judge yourself for feeling less thankful as Saint Paul, you will... in time... begin to see the hand of the Divine in and through everything that happens. And, something will begin to change in how you feel.
I know. I've been there.
There will come a day when you will find yourself giving thanks for the very thing that once caused you the greatest trouble... the deepest sorrow. There is a mystery here that I can neither explain nor explore. I just know it to be true.
German theologian, Rudolf Otto called it the "Numinous" or the "Mysterium Tremendum." A mystery that you will turn away from in fear and trembling, with questions and confusion; but, and this is the irony... the mystery, what you turn away from today, you turn toward tomorrow. What you repel today, you receive tomorrow. I cannot explain this. I just know it to be so.
On the eve of this Thanksgiving, I am giving thanks for everything. But you don't have to. If you are not able to give thanks, then...
Know today... you don't have to pretend. You do not have to wear a smile you really don't feel, just so everybody else will be comfortable. Know that it's OK to not feel so grateful this Thanksgiving... to not feel like joining the chorus of praise.
My guess is, for some of you, just knowing this is enough to make you feel a little more grateful...
It is, isn't it? Enough, I mean.
Think of this as the first note in what will someday be a song...
A Song of Thanksgiving.