The Thanksgiving traditions in my family have undergone some changes over the years. The Warner celebration has always been the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but other things have changed. As a kid, I always dreaded the long drive to my Aunt Betty’s house. Not only was it two hours away, but I was the only kid of my age—all of my cousins were either ten years older than me or eight years younger. But my Aunt Betty had an interesting house, and I’d find ways to walk around and not go crazy from boredom. By the time I was able to drive, Thanksgiving had moved to my Dad’s house. I remember one year we even had pizza for Thanksgiving since we were all tired of turkey. By this time I was able to carry on enough of a conversation with adults that Thanksgiving was not the snooze fest it had once been. Now, Thanksgiving has moved to my Aunt Cathy’s. Over the last ten years, I’ve probably missed more Thanksgivings at Aunt Cathy’s than I’ve been able to attend. Other traditions have come and gone in my own celebrations—I used to like to put up the Christmas tree on Thanksgiving. At other times I was sure to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
The point of this story is that things change. But we all know that, don’t we? We all encounter seasons of life. Sometimes these changes come in little details of traditions, sometimes we face changes that challenge us to our very core. In the midst of life’s difficult changes, how can we give thanks? It seems easier to me to give thanks when things stay the same, when there is something I can count on. In my life, there have been many constants in the face of little changes. Perhaps you’ve faced some difficult times this year, and you’re not sure how to celebrate this week—the holidays are not a celebration for you, but a reminder of what is lost.
In the Bible, one of the Psalms begins, Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever (Psalm 106:1). The Psalmist then goes on for 47 more verses, describing Israel’s journey and struggles. The Psalm even ends with Israel scattered among the nations, removed from their land that represented their relationship with God. God’s grace is anticipated by the writer: Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise. Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say,“Amen!” Praise the LORD! (Psalm 106:47-48) I find great comfort in this Psalm’s anticipation that God will indeed act as He has always done. A friend once said it to me this way: The best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. With God, that is good news. What He has done in the past is what He will continue to do in the future. There is reason to give thanks!
Many of us can embrace this reality with our heads, but our experience does not match up. We have yet to see the other end of the story; we’re still in the middle of the Psalm, wading through the struggles. Should we slap on a fake smile this week and pretend that everything is okay, hoping that things will turn out for the best? I think God calls us to be real with Him and with others. Certainly Psalm 106 tells the big story of God’s people, covering blessing, desertion, restoration, and everything in between. But there are other Psalms that reflect only parts of this story—maybe your life reflects one of the Psalms that focuses on the struggle, still in the dark space. That’s okay—the Psalms give the whole range of human experience because that is how God has designed us.
In the midst of your changes—be they big or small—find out how giving thanks is going to work for you this year. For most of us, this can be a time of celebration, of remembrance, of Thanksgiving. For others, it will be a time to look forward, to reflect on when the struggles will end. No matter which space you are in, you will find that the constant of God’s provision of love is there.