In just a couple of days, many people will be sitting down at a table somewhere engorging themselves on turkey, casseroles, bread, and assorted desserts. There will be laughter, celebration of families re-united, and most likely a turkey-induced nap in the living room while some football game is playing. Kids will watch the parade, and the unofficial kickoff of Christmas will begin either when Santa appears or all the turkey is finished. Americana at its best.
In other places, there will be awkwardness. Oh, there will still be turkey, but the rooms will be filled with people who wish they were anywhere else. Strained relationships will leave a worse taste than that cold cranberry sauce (why do some people out there believe just HAS to be a part of a Thanksgiving meal?). There will be yelling in the kitchens as families stress over getting things done. For people here, this awkward halfway point to Christmas from Halloween just can’t be over fast enough. ‘Murica.
For still others, the holiday will not even register. Giving “thanks” is an alien concept that doesn’t even register as a blip their radar, because they struggle finding anything to be thankful for.
Let’s be frank. At the risk of Jesus juking the holiday, I want to say that this season sometimes feels like a bit of a sham. Bear with me.
Yes, it’s a GREAT idea to take time to remember what we are thankful for. Sure, there are people all over Twitter and Facebook who’ve spent every day this month openly sharing what they are thankful for. And this is good…even GREAT! In a consumer culture that can’t seem to get enough, for people to stop and think for two seconds about what they’re thankful for CAN be a breath of fresh air.
Thanksgiving can also bait us into hypocrisy.
Why? Because most of the year, many of us spend the majority of our time complaining.
“My life sucks.” “My kids suck.” “I hate my job.” “Why did that guy cut me off in traffic?” “I don’t like being around other people.”
Relationship games. Political arguments. Passive aggressiveness. Aggressive aggressiveness. Entitlement.
And this is the easy stuff. Don’t even get started on those with some serious problems – broken families, poverty, addictions, disease, victims of abuse…
Whether we face serious problems or we are just embittered over the daily “noise” of life, “thanks” is not something that comes naturally for many of us. Maybe “Turkey Day” is a more apt description, and we feel like the turkeys.
But we put on the Thanksgiving face, anyway. We go to the dinners. We may even do the whole 30-days-of thanks thing that’s trending in social media. Woohoo. For a season, maybe we’ll show the world that we’re thankful…
…at least until we start griping about the Black Friday crowds, or the fact that Aunt So-and-so puts red peppers in a green bean casserole, or that we just hate our lives in general.
Hypocrisy is a trap like that. We have an opportunity to put on a mask we do not normally wear.
I do not intend to diminish the fact that there are many hurting people who sincerely struggle with finding reasons to be thankful. Their struggle is real, but I also believe they are not beyond finding hope. Likewise, I do not intend to suggest that those who gripe from time to time (or more than that) don’t find REAL things to be thankful for.
But most of our measure of “thanks” is based on the haves and the have-nots. It’s hard to be thankful for something you don’t have, and it’s far too easy for others to flaunt how thankful we are for having something others do not. I can’t help but wander that every time someone publicly cries out, “I’m thankful for my health,” or, “I’m thankful for my family,” or, “I’m thankful for my prosperity” – that in speaking these things, we inadvertently step on those who do NOT have those things.
And that’s how Thanksgiving baits our hypocrisy: It reveals our entitlement to what we have. It reveals our apathy towards those who don’t have. It reveals our selfishness. Even in the cries of those that whine they have nothing to be thankful for, some of the time that reveals an unhealthy desire for “stuff” right next to understandable cries for freedom from their tough situation.
We are either thankful for our security, or we crave it. We are thankful for good relationships, or we long for them. We are thankful for the stuff we have, while others wish they had more.
And somehow, what we should truly be thankful for can be lost in the conversations: That we have a God who loves us. That in spite of the pains of this life (and the pitfalls of its rewards), there is the promise of an eternal life where there is no poverty, no pain, no disease, and no loneliness.
We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.
That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. (2 Corinthians 4:14-16).
This year, while I’m tempted to voice my thanks for the things I have, instead I want to offer thanks for what God has – an incredible love that He has chosen to share with us and to invite us into an eternity with him.
This year, it’s my prayer that those who know not what to be thankful for can discover this kind of grace, and the pains of this world fade away as their spirits are renewed.
I long for the time when “there will be great thanksgiving.”