As you all know, tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. It’s a day we set aside every year for the holy and righteous purpose of eating lots of turkey and watching football all day long.
Well, of course, that’s not the reason we have thanksgiving. I mean, I do plan to eat some turkey, and I suspect at some point I’ll be watching some football, too. But we know that’s not the real reason we have Thanksgiving. The real reason we have Thanksgiving, as we all know, is to rest up for all the doorbusters sales that’ll be coming up on Black Friday.
No, that’s not it, either. Now, don’t get me wrong. We’re not sinning if we decide to eat some turkey and watch some football tomorrow, and we’re not sinning if we go to a Black Friday sale. But I do hope that, at some point tomorrow, we’ll all take some time to think about all the things we really do have to be thankful for. And I also hope that we’ll take some time in prayer to thank God for all those things. And when I say “things”, I don’t just mean material things. A lot of the things we have to be thankful for are not “things” at all, at least not in that sense.
But you know, there are some people in our community--and maybe some of you are here tonight--who may not feel very thankful right now. Some of us are going through serious illnesses or injuries, or have loved ones who are. Some of us have lost loved ones recently, and are grieving. Some of us have serious financial problems. Some of us feel very alone. And some of us don’t even know exactly what it is that’s wrong, but just feel like their lives are not going very well and they don’t know what to do or where to turn.
If you’re going through something like this, or if you know someone who is, I want you to know that it’s okay if you don’t feel very thankful at this Thanksgiving. We read from First Thessalonians where the Apostle Paul says we should be thankful in all circumstances, but that’s a goal, not a command. We’re not committing a sin if there are some circumstances in which we cannot feel thankful.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not disagreeing with the Apostle Paul. We will be better off if we can find a way to be thankful, nomatter what the circumstances are. The thing is, though, that we cannot make ourselves feel something we don’t really feel. We can know that we should feel thankful, but if we don’t actually feel thankful, we cannot make ourselves feel that way. In fact, we’re likely to just make ourselves feel worse if we try. When we’re going through something that keeps us from feeling thankful, we already feel bad enough. We don’t need to pile guilt on top of everything else.
And a lot of the platitudes we hear don’t help much, either. And we’ve all said them. We say them with the best of intentions, we certainly don’t mean to hurt anyone or make anyone feel bad, but still, some of these things we say are not very helpful at all.
For instance, “No matter how bad things are for you, there’s always someone else who has it worse.” Well, yeah, there probably is, but when we’re going through some of these things, when we’re dealing with a serious illness or the death of a loved one or with loneliness or whatever, knowing that someone else feels even worse does not really help much.
“God never gives you more than you can handle.” Well, in the first place, I don’t believe God singles us out to give us bad things. God may use bad things to teach us stuff. God will definitely be there for us to help us in bad times. God may use those bad times to ultimately make us better people in the long run. But I don’t believe that God deliberately makes bad things happen to us because God knows we can handle them.
And in fact, sometimes telling someone that “God never gives you more than you can handle” can do more harm than good. Because the fact is, sometimes things happen to us that are more than we can handle. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by all the things that are happening to us. The idea that, well, we should be able to handle these things because God would not have given them to us otherwise just makes us feel worse.
The thing is, there are a lot of things that happen in life that we are not supposed to be able to handle. At least, we’re not supposed to handle them by ourselves. And that’s where other parts of those Bible verses we read come in.
Before telling us to be thankful in all circumstances, there are some other things that Paul tells us to do. Look at what those are. Paul tells us to encourage the disheartened. He tells us to help the weak. He tells us to be patient with everyone. He tells us to pray continually.
If we take those things seriously, if we do those things for other people, especially people who are going through hard times, it will be a lot more likely that those of us who are going through hard times will be able to find things to be thankful for. If you’re going through a tough time right now, or if you have in the past, think about this. Would you be thankful for some encouragement? Would you be thankful for some help when you’re weak? Would you be thankful for some patience when the things you’re dealing with overwhelm you? Would you be thankful to know someone was praying continually for you?
I suspect you would. In fact, we’d love to have those things even when we’re not going through tough times. We’d love to have those things even when things are going well. I’m always happy to get some encouragement. We all have times of weakness--when I have one, I’m very grateful for some help. I very much appreciate it when people are patient with me, because I make plenty of mistakes. And I’m always grateful when I know someone is praying for me. And I would think most of us here probably feel the same way.
And you know what else? When I do one of those things for someone else, it always makes me feel better, too. I suspect it does the same for you when you do it. It makes me feel good to be able to encourage someone when they’re struggling. It makes me feel like I’ve really done something right when I can help someone out who needs help. I feel good about myself when I’m patient with someone who needs patience. And the gratitude of people when I let them know I’m praying for them overwhelms me sometimes.
Now, I’m not saying I always do these things. I’m no better at them than you are. There are plenty of times I miss chances to do all of these things. I’m just saying that on those occasions when I do do them, it does not just help the person I’m trying to help. It helps me, too.
But notice something else in this reading. Notice what Paul does not say. Paul does not say “solve people’s problems”. Paul tells us to encourage, to help, to be patient, and to pray. He does not tell us to fix or to solve.
I think that was intentional. A lot of times, when we’re going through a tough time, there’s no way that anyone can come in and solve our problems. That’s okay. We don’t need someone to come in and solve our problems. We just need someone to let us know they care. We just need someone to let us know they’ll be there for us. We just need someone to let us know that, as we deal with whatever it is we’re dealing with, we don’t have to go through it alone.
God does not want us to try to go through life alone. God knows that life is too hard for us to go through alone. That’s one of the reasons God put us into families. That’s one of the reasons God put us into communities. And that’s also one of the reasons why God put us into churches. One of the reasons the first Christian churches formed is so we will not have to go through life alone, so that we will have others around us who will care about us and who will love us.So, as we celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, and as we head into Advent and Christmas, let’s think about that. Let’s pray about that. And then, let’s do something about that. Let’s ask God to help us find ways to show that we care about each other. Let’s ask God to help us find ways to be there for each other. Let’s ask God to help us be there for people, regardless of what church they go to and regardless of whether they go to any church at all. If we do the things Paul told us to do, if we encourage the disheartened, help the weak, and are patient with everyone, we’ll change people’s circumstances. And rather than just telling people to be thankful in all circumstances, we’ll create circumstances in which we can all be thankful.