Thanksgiving is different this year. It’s the first Thanksgiving in sixty years that Linda and I haven’t been together. Her absence is keenly felt. Grief remains raw.
Admittedly, gratitude isn’t the prevailing emotion. Lament prevails over praise. Tears surface more readily than laughter. Sorrow’s night time still awaits morning’s joy.
Then, I read the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18).
My first response is “Paul, you’ve got to be kidding! This sounds like a pious positive-thinking platitude propagated by a prosperity preacher.”
I realize, however, that the admonition comes from one who knew far more hardship, suffering, grief, and struggle than anything I have experienced. He chronicles some of his challenges:
. . . countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received. . .forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from bandits, danger from my own people, . . ., danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).
So I can’t easily dismiss his admonition that I “rejoice always” and “give thanks in all circumstances.” He knows some things I need to remember and practice amid my sadness and struggles.
For one thing, the present circumstance is not the whole story. Loss and grief can feel all-consuming, the tragic end of the story.
But the Apostle Paul knew that our stories are emeshed is a much larger narrative. We are all part a Love Story that encompasses all creation. The Eternal Power that brings creation into existence is ever working to renew, reconcile, heal, and bring to completion all things.
Therefore, we can rejoice and give thanks that within the worst of circumstances, God is present, working to comfort, heal, reconcile, renew, and bring wholeness. In this Love Story, the most painful and debilitating experiences are woven into the fabric of a new future we call Resurrection!
As participants in this eternal Love Story, we are never alone. We are connected to one another and to all of God’s creation. Paul states it boldly, “Nothing in all creation, in life or in death, is able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:19).
On this first Thanksgiving Day without the physical presence of Linda, I rejoice and give thanks for
- love shared for six decades and which continues to bind us together
- family and friends who lend their loving support
- joyful memories of tender and carefree times
- suffering relieved and wholeness gained
- hope that “joy will come in the morning”
- love that endures
- lament amid loss, comfort amid sorrow
- being part of God’s ongoing Love Story!
Thank you, Paul, for helping me rejoice and give thanks on this first Thanksgiving Day without Linda’s physical presence.