By Shannon Everhart Collins
Wow, it is so hard to believe we are approaching the holidays! It doesn’t seem possible that within the next few weeks we will be celebrating Thanksgiving. What does the word thankful mean? The dictionary definition of thankful is: “To be glad that something has happened or not happened or that something or someone exists, etc.” Additionally, it includes the phrase, “Conscious of benefit received or well pleased.” Some synonyms of thankful are gratified, pleased, satisfied, glad, happy, and joyful.
When things are good, it is so easy to be thankful. Isn’t it? When relationships are going great, and no one in your little world is sick or dying, it’s easy to say you are thankful. When business is good and money is there for the things you need, you feel thankful. When the kids are happy and healthy and doing awesome in school or college, once again you are thankful. You meet your best friend for lunch and sit across from her and easily confess, “I am so blessed, and I am truly thankful.”
You know the same is true at Thanksgiving dinner! We put helpings of wonderful, tasty foods on our plates. We pile up that plate with what we like!! Turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, corn, green beans, black-eyed peas, macaroni and cheese, rolls, chocolate pie or carrot cake. We sit down and look at those plates filled with our favorites cooked just the way we ordered them up, and we look across the table at our family and we say here again, “I am so blessed, and I am truly thankful.”
Let’s throw this little picture perfect vision a curve ball! What if—instead of all our perfectly cooked favorites that day—all there was to heap on our plate was something nasty? For me, that would be turnip greens. For my husband, that would be anything with mayonnaise in it! For my son, that would be mashed potatoes. For my daughters, it would be anything with lots of marinara sauce. What would we do if there was nothing there we liked? I can hear it now! “What is this?” “I don’t like this!” “Do I have to eat this?” “This stinks!” “MOM!” I don’t believe we woud say or hear many words of thanksgiving.
The point once again is that it is so easy to be thankful when we are getting what we want. As soon as that changes, whether it involves our Thanksgiving dinner or our lives in general, it is so incredibly difficult to still be thankful. Paul tells the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Paul also tells the church in Ephesus in Ephesians 5:17-20, “Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul says to give thanks in ALL circumstances because it is God’s will for us. Then he says to ALWAYS give thanks to God the Father for everything. For everything? Really? Why would our Lord want us to be thankful when things are falling apart? Why would our Lord want us to be thankful when our loved one is sick or dying? Why would He want us to be thankful when our child has a broken heart? Why would He expect us to be thankful when money is low and need is high and stress is mounting? How could He desire for us to be thankful when we are hurting or suffering or broken? How?
A friend told me last week that when she got the call to confirm that she had cancer, she sat down and thanked the Lord for what He was about to teach her. What?? Who does that? Well the answer I believe is a heart of faith does that! A heart focused on God and His faithfulness, love, and promises can still trust Him in the midst of the storm, the sorrow, or the trial. That heart of faith can still gives thanks. Instead of crumbling under the pressure or caving in with despair, that thankful heart turns its focus to God and trusts His plan no matter how it seems or how it feels at the time.
I think Paul tells us how to do this in that passage in Ephesians where he says to be filled with the Spirit. Apart from being filled with the Spirit, we could never choose to be thankful in trial or in sorrow. Impossible.
So this Thanksgiving, whether you sit down to your favorites or you have to swallow the most horrific “meal,” I hope you can find it in your heart to still be thankful and trust your God. I’m ashamed to say that I don’t believe I’m there yet, but that’s the kind of heart I want. Maybe I’ll ask Him to grant me that thankful heart for Christmas.
Shannon is a counselor at FBC Jackson and lives in Brandon with her husband and three children. She recently wrote a children’s book, If It Were Up To Us, available online at shannoneverhartcollins.com.