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Thankful? Are you kidding?

November 27, 2014

It’s Thanksgiving morning.  I am sitting at the kitchen table with uncombed hair, charcoal-smeared hands and a faded hooded sweatshirt.  I’ve been up since 4:30 a.m., tending to the smoker in the back yard, carefully watching the temperature and gently feeding the wood in a chronological cycle that I’ve honed for over twenty years.    Each year we save up and purchase two turkeys, with one going in the oven and the other in the smoker. 

I’m watching the sun rise and enjoying the quietness of the dawn.  Also, my hands are freezing.

I’m opening up my Bible, ready for a great Thanksgiving passage to overwhelm me.  1 Chronicles 29?  Psalm 95?  Psalm 100?  I’m ready to dig in.

And then I hit the speed bump known as 1 Thessalonians 5:18:

“…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

In all circumstances?

Aw, man…

I wanted something a little more majestic than this.

I mean, I’m ready to thank the Lord for my family.  Nicholas just got promoted to First Lieutenant.  Julianne got straight A’s in her latest fourth grade report card.  Peter’s going to make it home for Christmas.  My wife Jill lights up the household with her boundless joy.  Noah and Bella are beautiful grandchildren.

I can also thank the Lord for good friends.  Steve and Tim both gave up their Sunday afternoon and repaired my car during a crisis.  Deidre sends me notes of encouragement during especially rough times at school.  Victor stops everything and listens to me, prays with me.  Bobby encourages me.1

I could go on with things that come my way to build me up.  But I now I read that I should be thankful for things that tear me down?  This is supposed to be God’s will for me … Jesus wants that heart in me?

Wait a minute, Lord…

… are you asking that I be appreciative of the ministry leader who stole the copyright to a literary work that took me five years to create?

… do you want me to be thankful for my wife’s fibro myalgia?

…am I supposed to enjoy the sports league owner who short-changed me tens of thousands of dollars in salary?

…you’re looking for happiness in the midst of physical injuries, business failures, family crises, and abject depression?

I meditate on this verse and in full honesty I wrestle with it.  I’m open to discussion, though –

–  and that’s where God talks.  Through His Word.  That’s when I read the book of Ruth and what a book this is! I am amazed at what this woman had to go through.  She loses a husband.  She loses her nationality.  She loses her friends.  She loses any financial stability that anyone would need.

But she won’t give up.  Her determination amazes me.

Even when she is so poor she is picking up food from the ground.   Pieces of wheat, friends.  Pieces of wheat.  Scraps of sustenance out of the very dirt of the earth.  Humiliating.  Does this bother her?  I imagine she had times of depression – that would be normal for a human.  She doesn’t lose her faithfulness, though, nor does she take her eyes off of Yahweh’s leading hand.

This wouldn’t have happened if she have “played it safe” and  stayed in her home land.  Boaz would have never met and married her.  She wouldn’t be part of the eternal part of the line of the Messiah.  What I see is that Ruth’s weakness and poverty-stricken state was a thing of thankfulness.

In fact, Paul reminds us that strength comes in weakness and that he – get this – rejoices in his sicknesses and destitute times.

That’s when I realize that the knife of God cuts both ways – not only to build us up but also to tear us down.  It’s sculpting at its most glorious.  He continually cuts away and hones so that we may better glorify Him and also be able to enjoy life more fully.  That seems to fly in the face of today’s world, but the Christian can understand this.

A decades-old memory sprang into my mind…

When I was the morning drive-time host at radio station WTOF in Canton, Ohio, I would receive a cheery phone call every morning during the first hour of my shift.  Gloria was a gentle African-American young lady with the uplifting voice that would greet me with a Bible verse and a sincere “good morning” over the phone faithfully.   Gloria and her husband William were raising two children as best they could; she cleaned houses and he labored at multiple jobs in order to make ends meet.  Still, they were always in the best of spirits, often stopping by the radio station and delivering baskets of breakfast goodies to brighten my day.  After I was on the air for about a year, I received an invitation:  would my wife Jill and I come to dinner at their home?  We accepted gratefully and drove our little Datsun B-210 across town to the address that William had given to me.

We pulled up to a home that was decrepit.  I wasn’t sure we were at the right address.  Did Bill and Gloria’s family live here?  At the time, Jill and I were living in a tiny apartment, but our humble abode seemed upper-class compared to this.

But, oh, the joyous dinner we had.  Their children, both middle-school age, were a delight to be around.  Little Carl took us upstairs and showed us his bedroom, which he had decked out with three strings of Christmas lights.  Daughter Kayla sang a hymn from their past church service.  Gloria laid out the spread for the evening – burgers and soup.  I don’t think we ever had such an enjoyable feast.  The Christian joy was genuine and infectious.  As we sat around that oilcloth-covered table with mismatched chairs, I remember how the conversation turned toward hard economic times.

But then Gloria brightened the evening with a response I will always remember:  “But you know, God has given us so many treasures, how can we not be thankful? We have learned to rejoice every day – every day.”  Her husband nodded and grinned.

And I began learning the secret of true contentment in Christ by seeing this real-life example.

And now may I wish you a most joyous Thanksgiving Day.

Because I’m preparing myself for a table loaded with two turkeys, a ton of potatoes and a lot of pie.








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  1. Cindy Leihkauff permalink

    A wonderful read for Thanksgiving morning. Thank you for sharing this. We wish you and Jill a lovely day with your family.

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