This preparation for gratitude. The dark winter ahead.
A time to get our hearts ready for Advent, for the celebration in the midst of the darkest time of the year, waiting for the great event of expectation—the birth of Jesus.
But before we ready our hearts for the greatest birth story, we spend some time saying thank you.
My daughter notices all the trees that are up, shining in the store display windows and asks, “Why don’t they celebrate Thanksgiving? Why do they jump ahead to Christmas?” She doesn’t understand how in the world of business, where the bottom line means the bottom dollar, Halloween leads straight to Christmas.
There is no time to pause for gratitude, to take a moment and bow our head in prayer and whisper thank you.
I walk in the park with my dog following beside me, a quiet companion on my journey. The day is brilliantly sunny, the leaves in full color, the modest Midwest showing off for once. In the midst of this beauty it is easy to forget about the suffering around us. One woman will receive the worst news of her life. A man will learn he’s dying. A young woman will feel hopeless and dejected after the man she loves leaves her.
What are we to do with these extremes of beauty and suffering? How do we embrace God’s blessings and yet accept the ugliness of this life?
We stop and do what feels unnatural:
We offer gratitude despite our circumstances.
In the Old Testament, we meet a man named Job whose suffering is considered the ‘worst of the worst’ and yet in the midst of all that pain, he fell to the ground saying:
“The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
His praise didn’t gloss over his loss or erase his pain. It wasn’t an attempt to try and pretend life was okay. His worship recognized both his loss and his thanks: two things that don’t seem mutually compatible.
Sad but thankful. Grieving but grateful. By accepting his loss, he was able to praise despite his loss.
It is not easy to sing praises in the midst of sorrow. Or to say thank you when the gratitude comes out through clenched fists or gritted teeth. But thankfulness in the midst of loss brings healing; it recognizes that the story is not finished. There is hope in the dark night–someone controlling this planet whirling on its axis. When our world feels out of control, if we recognize there is a God controlling the universe–the planets spinning in perfect harmony–then like Job, we can say thank you even through our desperate hurt.
In our pain we recognize the Giver of blessings rather than the blessings themselves.
That is what Thanksgiving is about: the Giver of blessings. The one who carries us through storms. The one who does not abandon us in our deepest pain.
In the midst of suffering, when the clouds are heavy and dark, I see the sky open up and the sunlight fall down. A small ray of light. The dark earth suddenly filled with something, maybe even hope.
I see the gift of this light,
who made it,
and the promise that all things will be made new.