12 Days of Thanksgiving: DAY ONE
“In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” — 1 Thesalonians 5:18
On the second Sunday before Thanksgiving for the past four years, I’ve begun an essay series I’ve called the 12 Days of Thanksgiving. It started as an effort in my own spirit to give Thanksgiving its due in this season of goblins and harvests speeding toward Christmas cheer. So much of my writing and thinking through the years has been an endeavor to embrace more deeply elements of the Truth I try to hold to — elements held with whiter knuckles at some times than others. If there ever was a white knuckle time in my life, this is certainly it.
Its been hard for me to decide whether to write the 12 Days of Thanksgiving series this year. More difficult, still, than in other years when it also seemed hard. I conceived the first series in 2008 as posting each day for the 12 days leading up to Thanksgiving Day. Even in the most normal of circumstances, that consistency is tough for me. And, of course, I wouldn’t characterize this year as “normal.” The last thing I need is more pressure. More deadlines. More demands. More thoughts. Please, no more thoughts. So, I had almost talked myself out of it.
Still we are here on Day One.
To be honest, the idea of contemplating thanksgiving intimidated me. It made me tired. It still does. It is so much of a challenge to think of being thankful in the midst of so many other daunting emotions and tasks. And yet, every time I considered the impending holiday season — Thanksgiving — the little thought of “in everything” penetrated my thinking. Maybe I saw it on cards or paper napkins. Maybe it showed up in some holiday promotion or some such passing mention. Or, maybe I just heard it in my own spirit from words hidden in my heart years ago. The challenge was becoming insistent.
My first reaction started with a “huh?” and moved quickly to a sigh. Another hard truth. Another confusing task. Another seemingly impossible hill to climb in the process of just breathing and moving and living these days. “In everything give thanks.” As in most truths I’ve found, the most challenging parts are what God doesn’t say — the succinctness of His word, his instruction, like so many of His actions. In these spare words, I try with all I have to trust it’s never too little. God’s word and His actions are never too little. But I wrestle with the notion that it’s also never too much.
It doesn’t say in the obvious times. When we’re happy. When we understand. When the plate before us looks overflowing. When the path is well-worn and level. No, it says “in everything.” When a mind is ravaged by depression. When the specter of death looms larger than life. When a man chooses to take his life and you lose your husband. When you grieve that you really lost your partner long ago. When you’re alone and questioning. When you’re angry. And tired. When you look into the eyes of three young children and beg for wisdom. When you know you’ll never know more. When you have to go on. It says “in everything.”
As I began to really consider this tradition of writing about thanksgiving, I knew this little phrase, “in everything,” would be the theme. If I could possibly form any clear thoughts about it, find any real wisdom and understanding of it. In deciding, I looked back at the verse in my Bible — to the part beyond what gets printed on greeting cards and notepads. “For this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
When I read that again, I wanted to yell at the top of my lungs, “Thank you!” At least one definitive answer in this great and complicated ball of thinking. “For THIS is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” After weeks and months and even years of what has felt like such intense searching at every moment for what God wanted me to do, just WHAT He was doing — what was best or doable or possible or good or wise or safe or free or kind or sane in an impossible and mind-blowing situation — to hear one small, but definitive answer was a relief. Such a relief. I may not understand much of anything right now. I may not know the what or how or when or certainly why of anything. But, in this one moment at least I know one thing… in everything give thanks, for THIS is the will of God for me in Christ Jesus.
And so I’m writing twelve essays for the purpose of understanding the role of giving thanks in this most challenging season of my life. I might be late. (Like I am tonight.) Or inconsistent. I might include thoughts I’ve already been working on, just tempered through the lens of thanksgiving. I might even brush against the silliness and light-hearted thoughts that have been sprinkled into past years — the thoughts that seem so elusive at times now. The best I can articulate on some days may be mere words or single sentences. But, I’m determined to do at least this one thing I know matches up with the truths I’ve held so dear.
In everything give thanks.