Thanksgiving: Navigating Grief with Gratitude
Thanksgiving is defined in the dictionary as an expression of gratitude, especially to God. Throughout the Scriptures, offerings of thanksgiving take many different forms. Between songs and prayers, gifts and dances, feast-days and fasting-days, there are a plethora of ways to be grateful to God in the Bible. In America, we have a national day of thanksgiving, a founding event historically based on the ancient Hebraic holiday of Sukkot - the Feast of Tabernacles.
There is something to be said about gathering together in an attitude of gratitude and experiencing overwhelming abundance as a group. The joy that can be experienced is part of why we keep coming back to it! Delicious scents and raucous laughter are practically guaranteed.
But for some, these gathering days are difficult to endure. Grief, loss, trauma, sorrow... all of these can keep joy at bay. Our family knows this personally. With my father's departure to heaven earlier this year, the concept of gathering around a table to eat a turkey according to the recipe that he perfected over the years without him is difficult at best. Likewise, there are many other families across the country who will have an empty seat at the table this year. However, it is our gratitude that keeps these moments grounded in celebration instead of mourning.
Did you know that the antidote to sorrow and grief is gratitude? Throughout Scripture, many of our favorite figures have turned to prayers of praise and supplication to get themselves out of a dark mood. King David often wrote songs and psalms in the middle of great trial to remind himself of God's goodness.
"O come, let us sing for joy to ADONAI. Let us shout for joy to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving. Let us shout joyfully to Him with songs." Psalm 95:1-2
"So they cried out to ADONAI in their distress, and He delivered them out of their troubles. He sent His word and healed them, and rescued them from their pits. Let them praise ADONAI for His mercy, and His wonders for the children of men. Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of His works with joyful singing." Psalm 107:19-22
"Now, our God, we give you thanks and praise Your glorious Name. But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For everything comes from You, and from Your hand we have given to You. For we are sojourners before You, mere transients like our fathers. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, without security..." 1 Chronicles 29:13-15
It can be easy to get caught up in the festivities, falling back on the ease of cooking, cleaning, gathering, and hosting to avoid sad or depressive thoughts. Doing things just because they need or should be done isn't the point of this holiday. The point is to give thanks to God for everything He has done or allowed in your life. And sometimes those things don't seem worthy of giving thanks for. But they are.
So here is my thanksgiving prayer-song and I hope you'll take a moment to come up with your own:
In my sadness, I will thank You ADONAI.
In my joy, I will thank You.
In my grief, I will thank You ADONAI.
In my delight, I will thank You.
When my toddler is screaming for more cookies, I will thank You for the gift of life in him.
When dinner is burnt and inedible, I will thank You for the gift of refrigeration so that I can try again.
When my heart is heavy with the absence of my earthly father, I will thank You for his memory in the faces of my brothers.
When my heart is light with laughter at silly commercials during a football game, I will thank You for the ability to find humor in the inane.
When traffic is backed up and I am late to an appointment, I will thank You for the invention of cars to get to my destination quickly and the extra moment to spend alone with You.
When deliveries don't arrive on time and my plans are thrown, I will thank You for having a better plan for my days than I do.
When careless words are tossed around and my feelings are hurt, I will thank You for having a heart of compassion instead of stone.
When compliments abound and accolades pour forth, I will thank You for being skillfully crafted in the image of my Creator.
In all things, big and small, good and bad, happy and sad, I will thank You, Oh ADONAI Elohim. For You are always worthy of praise and it is good for my heart to remember that.
Happy Thanksgiving Friends!