When It's Hard to be Thankful
Another Thanksgiving Day is upon us. A day we set aside from the normal hustle and bustle of life to be thankful for all the good things in life. So be thankful, smile, and enjoy some oversized portions of turkey and mashed potatoes. That's what this day is all about, right?
But what if you can’t smile? What if you don’t feel particularly thankful this Thanksgiving? What if you really feel more depressed than happy? If this is you, you can be sure you are not alone. Many people have those same feelings this time of year. Perhaps, you will not even be able to pinpoint why you feel this way; you just do. Sure, maybe the stress of 2020 and COVID-19 has added to the troubles, but more than that, you're just feeling down.
Medical professionals have concluded that certain individuals may be more prone to what is called “seasonal depression”. Unfulfilled expectations, financial pressures, and excessive commitments during this time of year can all bring about feelings of stress and anxiety. We know this past year was filled with so much difficulty for so many people. Perhaps yours entailed tragedy. For instance, losing a loved one can make the holiday season we are entering almost unbearable.
What can be done? You might be thinking, “This guy’s a pastor! He’s just going to say ‘have faith’ and then everything will magically get better.” Yes and no. I do believe that ultimately everything in life boils down to spiritual issues and one’s relationship with God. However, no, I do not think we can simply broad-stroke each individual’s feelings with a silver bullet Bible verse, or instruct people that if they merely change their thinking, everything will be better. What I can offer is hope.
Hope is a word that is fundamentally misunderstood. These days we generally use the word hope as a synonym for wishful thinking or uncertainty in one’s desire. However, the Bible uses the word hope to signify the feeling of confident expectation. The Apostle Paul ends his letter to the Romans by saying, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope" (Romans 15:13). God is not a God of “wishful thinking”, nor does He desire that we abound in uncertainty. Rather, saying that God is the God of hope gives us certainty that the promises He has made will come to pass. Time may move slowly and trials may come upon us, but God’s promises to His people will be kept. This is our hope. If you find yourself struggling with anxiety or depression today, let me remind you of the hope that is found in Christ alone.
Once this Thanksgiving Day is over, everything will turn into Christmas. Decorations, music, movies, and treats will all become Christmas-infused. However, sometimes we get distracted by the fun of our Christmas traditions and forget why we have this holiday in the first place. Christmas is about our God becoming flesh in order that He could save His people from their sins.
That baby lying in a manger came to earth with a specific purpose and it was not that we might have tree-shaped cookies. Jesus entered into His own creation in order to bring light and life. Since the fall of mankind and the entrance of sin, life has not been how God intended. The hatred and strife that permeates society, the sickness and disease that destroys families, the anxiety and depression that causes so many to despair of life are all the consequences of living in a sin-stained world. God knows this, cares about us, and He is making all things new (Revelation 21:5). Jesus came to earth in order to save us from this broken world.
This is the hope of Christmas: that even when Jesus was still in the womb of his mother, Mary, she cried out “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior" (Luke 1:47). Zechariah proclaims, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people" (Luke 1:68). How could Mary rejoice in a Savior and Zechariah say that He has redeemed His people even before Jesus’ birth? Only because those statements are spoken with hope, the confident expectation that God does not fail in His purposes. Jesus would grow, He would live a perfect life, and He would die as a perfect sacrifice for His people.
If you come to Christ in repentance and faith, you can have assurance that your present suffering is not the end. You can be certain that one day all of the trouble you have in this dark world will cease, and you will be with your God and King forever.
So even when it is hard, I encourage you to “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer" (Romans 12:12). God has not left you alone. “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18). This is something we can hope for.
If you are not a follower of Christ and are struggling with finding hope, with finding a reason to be thankful, I tell you this: you can look in a lot of places but I know (from personal experience) you will not find it. True and lasting hope only comes through Christ and what He accomplished upon the cross. I cannot offer a quick fix for all of your problems. I simply offer hope through those problems, even in the most difficult of circumstances.
One day when you leave this world, when you die and stand before God you can have hope, not because of who you are or what you’ve done, but because your trust is in Christ. So if you are a follower of Christ today, no matter how you feel and how hard this year has been, you do have a reason to be thankful. The reason is Jesus.