Giving Thanks: Not the Usual SuspectsNov 22, 2015 03:37AM ● By Bonnie Lyn Smith
I’m not quite sure how it happened, but Thanksgiving appears to be upon us. I have no idea what I’m making yet. I have not admitted to myself there is cleaning to do, groceries to buy, or even plans to firm up. I’m in limbo. Stuck. I’ve been waiting on news on whether a loved one is moving forward in cancer treatment or facing an overgrown, unwanted enemy who invited more friends to the table while we weren’t looking.
I simply cannot plan, think, or even decide which task to start.
Ever live in limbo, holding your breath for the next news to ring your phone, pop onto your e-mail, or flit across your newsfeed?
The truth is that we all come to our Thanksgiving table this year with so many world events on our minds. Amidst ISIS, beheadings, bombings, displacement, wars, genocide, human trafficking, school shootings, tense political debates, riots, and the like, how do we give thanks with any sense of peace and calm?
And, if you’re like me, knowing the weight of what is going on around us, I feel guilty sitting at a table spread with provision and leisure with the luxury of casually discussing terror and turmoil as a dinner topic over “Pass the mashed potatoes, please.”
So, where do we go to put ourselves in a place of grateful and outward, positive focus, to give thanks the way the Apostle Paul did for the early church in Ephesus? Did you know that at the time of the letter, he was believed to be in prison in Rome? I’d saying being thankful takes on entirely new meaning, considering that possibility.
Ephesians 1:15-18, ESV, Apostle Paul speaking
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints…
Paul encourages these new Christians that he continues to be thankful for them, even though he has some correction and direction to offer them in his letter. Instead of focusing on the negative, he begins with this encouragement, praying that they have wisdom and revelation in their growing understanding of and relationship with God. He speaks in terms of hope.
How about us? Do we give thanks for people in the same way, remembering them in our prayers?
It’s somewhat easy to sit around the Thanksgiving table and rattle off the usual suspects:
We may even be specific about people: doctors caring for us, special teachers in our lives, dear friends.
But what about giving thanks for the people who harm us?
From Jesus’s famous Sermon on the Mount:
Matthew 5:44, ESV, Jesus speaking
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
How about we go around the table with that one? Not so easy, is it? No, not for me either.
What would it sound like?
Thank You, God, for that betrayal and heartbreak because I learned how to rely on You to heal, love again, discern what is healthy, and set good boundaries.
Would You show that person how much You love him/her so he/she can be healthier too?
Thank You, God, for that removal from a toxic circumstance. You let me stay long enough to say I gave it my best, learn from it, and try to love a few people while going through it. Then You provided a way out after I did what You asked me to and after I made a few of my own mistakes in handling it.
Would You bless those still involved with eyes that see the hurt they do and bring them into a greater understanding of Your love?
Thank You, God, for that difficult person who is sharpening my character because I have to run my responses past You before reacting. It’s making me more patient, gentle, and full of self-control, fruit of Your Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
Would You help me show love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, and self-control to him/her so that he/she wants to seek Your fruit too?
Thank You, God, for the people in my life who never find me valuable enough to love me back. You are teaching me much about compassion. You have plenty of people You love who don’t love You back. As You give me the grace to minister to them, I can learn to draw my sense of worth from You. You are teaching me how to be Your hands and feet to those dear ones without expectation of reciprocation.
Would You please show them how valuable they are to You that You were willing to be nailed to a Cross to make eternal relationship with You possible? Would You equip them to rise up and give without expectation to others?
Thank You, God, for the people who don’t share my views. They deepen my thought and refine my ability to defend what I believe.
Would You please bring peace in our interactions and bless the parts of their hearts that yearn for solutions that honor You? Would You help me receive the possibility of other ways of doing things outside myself, as long as they line up with Your Word?
Thank You, God, for the horrible news reported (and misreported) around the world because good rises up in horrifying circumstances, and I have the privilege to pray for change and sometimes to participate in it via charity. I am more mindful of a world beyond my own comfort, and I cannot be as self-focused when I am willing to pray back the dark.
Would You shine Your Light on what’s evil and stir hearts to put down their violent ways and follow Your path of peace? Would You allow the soft response of the victims to turn the hearts of the offenders toward You? And would You bless those doing good in difficult circumstances so that they can bring more glory to Your name?
That’s a tall order some days. I’m not sure every day I pray like this. But as we share warm meals, nice place settings, and the safe company of each other around the table, what if—
—just, what if—
—this year we stretched our thanks-giving beyond what’s easy and comfortable.
What if we loved our enemies and prayed for those who offend/hurt/dishonor/victimize/persecute us? What if we thanked God for what we have had to learn and adjust in our character to love those who are hardest to love?
I’m pretty sure He sent His Son to hang on that Cross for all of us the same. He didn’t leave anyone out of the blessings of His sacrifice—when received as the gift that it is.
We can confidently give thanks that each of us has a seat at His forever table—that is, if we choose to take it.
Author Bonnie Lyn Smith writes about parenting, marriage, mental health advocacy, special education, faith in the valleys of life, the healing cloak of Jesus, drawing healthy boundaries, relational healing, renewing our minds, walking with a Holy God, and much ado about grace. Join the conversation at Espressos of Faith.
Her book, Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day, offers anecdotes on all of these subjects and Scripture for each situation as well as Book Discussion Questions for deeper exploration.