As we celebrate Thanksgiving in the U.S. the big question that will be asked around most dinner tables is “what are you thankful for?” We might go around in a circle and each person list one thing for which they are thankful. We might elaborate on special blessings, joyous occasions, or unexpected miracles that have happened during the last year.
But I’m willing to bet there won’t be one table in America that asks the question, “What are you NOT thankful for?”
You see, we tend to view life and it’s happenings in one of two categories, good and bad. There are good things that happen, like getting a job or recovering from an illness. And there are bad things that happen like losing a job or getting sick. We tend to be thankful for the things we consider to be in the “good” category. But those in the “bad” column? Not so much.
Truth be told, despite the lip service we give it on days like Thanksgiving, we’re not really thankful for everything. Just the good stuff.
My son Colin told me about an illustration he saw on the internet the other day, and I think it’s useful in making a point. Take a look at the glass on the left. Is it half-empty or is it half-full? Stay with me, this isn’t some lame optimist/pessimist exercise. Is it half-empty or half-full?
Actually, it’s a trick question because the glass is full. It’s always full. In this case, it’s half-full of water and half-full of air. Even a glass that we consider to be empty is still full of air. (Science geeks can take their discussion of vacuums elsewhere.)
Here’s the point: Ephesians 1 tells us that all things in heaven and earth are made one in Jesus Christ, and that He fills all in all. Hear that? All things, good and bad, up or down, are brought together in Christ and He fills them all.
The glass is always full in Christ.
So even the things on my “bad” list are good because they are in Christ. Even the things that bring us pain, the suffering, the lost job, the sickness, are filled by Christ. And we are never closer to Him, we are never more filled with Him than when we suffer. It’s the path of the true pilgrim, the lot of the sincere seeker.
Like the paradox that is the essence of the Christ experience, our “bad” list actually is our “good” list. He has brought them both together and made them one in Him. That’s why He so confidently tells us to “give thanks in everything.”
So this year, around the Thanksgiving table in our house, I’m going to be thanking God for the health problems I’ve been experiencing, because they’ve made me more dependent on Christ which is something I wrote about last week. I’ll be encouraging our family to think about things they wouldn’t necessarily associate with Thanksgiving. I’m going to make us think about the things we’d normally ignore, the things we wish would change, the things on our “bad” list.
Maybe, just maybe, instead of offering up the same tired answer to the same tired question, God will get glory as we begin to open up about the things that make us question God, the things that make us suffer, the things that make us say “Why?” And maybe He’ll get glory when we admit the things we haven’t really been so thankful for, and we let Him change us more into His image as we lay down our selfish notion that everything should always go well and we get thankful for the things that draw us closer and make us more dependent on Him.
This Thanksgiving I dare you, ask the question, “What are you NOT thankful for?”
#1 by Erica on November 23, 2011 - 5:00 PM
Amen! In everything give thanks! He doesn’t waste anything that happens in our lives, whether difficult or sweet. A thorn can really be a blessing. It is a matter of perspective — His perspective. What a comfort it is to know that the Sovereign God of all creation is working His plan in us!
#2 by David on November 24, 2011 - 6:59 PM
As I sit here alone on Thanksgiving Day, a day that will go down in infamy as 42 years ago on this day my life changed forever with the implosion of my family as I knew it. Dad splits leaving a wake a mile wide behind. For the most part I have been healed of the effects but the memory lives on this day. That along with the fact that my wife spends this day with her family that chooses not to except me because I suffer from bipolar disorder and have for 25 years. Top that off with an oldest son who to this day will not forgive me after 12 long years of humbling myself and trying earnestly to seek his forgiveness for leaving his mom in a manic state after 20 years of marriage and for the most part still won’t acknowledge my existence. These things are front and center on this day of “thanksgiving” where I am painfully reminded that my Lord and Savior endured this measure of pain and so much more so that I can a life in Him. I can only CHOOSE to be thankful for what He has brought me through and the hope that I have for the future through Him. Yes, in the midst of all this BAD…I am still thankful!
#3 by Dave Kirby on November 24, 2011 - 10:35 PM
I am moved by your story and will be praying for you.
We can be thankful because Christ fills all things. He fills your loneliness, He fills the heartache. He fills all in all.
You can rejoice because He restores us to the place we were in the garden where we exist in innocence, naked before Him and unashamed. And I’m not speaking “theory” here, I’m speaking as a man who has hit the wall, reached the end, and found His grace already there waiting for me.
So we’re here together bro. Feeling the pain of our mistakes, yet the warmth and acceptance of His mercy. It’s where He wanted us all along.