On Giving Hard Thanks

My two sons and I just returned from Montreal.

There is a doctor there, a kind man, whose hands know how to heal.

He probes and presses until he finds the damage done by tackles and checks and poor posture and slumpy stomach sleeping; he finds those places rent with ache, and then he does a surprising thing.

Instead of backing off these islands of sore, giving them space to cower and be, he assails them with gadgets that jackhammer and electrodes that stim, pushing and pushing and pushing these places of pain until they yield and relax, conform at last to their created contours. They surrender to his hand.

I’m thankful for this man.

The last time we made this trip, two Thanksgivings and a lifetime ago, I had three sons with me; this is the first Thanksgiving without the lost one.

How do we give thanks in the midst of our hard?

When there are empty places at your table and empty places in your heart and it feels as if the assaults of the enemy keep coming in, wave after wave after wave, until you are barely able to lift your eyes, never mind your hands, to the One who is worthy of all of our thanks?

We are told that God’s will for us is to “give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

All, Abba?

Could you define all?

Because I’m pretty sure that giving thanks for cancer and and poverty, riots and racial unrest, errant loved ones and dead sons could not possibly be included in Your all.

Could they?

It would be easy to protest. To remind the Creator-Sustainer that He couldn’t possibly understand what it feels like to stagger under the weight of seeming loss after loss after loss. The separation. The loneliness. The sorrow.

Until you remember.

Oh, yes.

Father, You lost Your own dear Son.

As You watched, He was beaten and mocked, spit on and struck, bloodied beyond recognition, hung and shamed upon a hill until He, yes even He, cried out in his suffering, “My God, my God, why Have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)

It would have been easy to think that all was lost. Disciples scattered, one a betrayer, another a denier. Gloating Pharisees. A stinking tomb.

But the God who calls us to give all-thanks has given us the besteverreason for our hearts to hope. We know how it turned out.

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Reversal.

A resurrection.

A promise.

The Father’s hand behind it all.

To give hard thanks means that we can, we must, remember that our God is a good Father, who loves us in hard ways, who pushes and pushes and pushes until at last we relax beneath His hand, until we stop pushing back, learn that to trust Him does not guarantee us an easy. In fact, it’s often quite the opposite, living in this dirty world.

To thank God for our all means we need to look forward, not behind, to see with surrender the treasure stored up for us by the One who knows us best.

I am reminded that, after confirming that Jesus was not, in fact, in the tomb, the disciples never returned there. They turned their back on apparent defeat and with faith-filled hearts, followed their triumphant King into a battle that continues to rage 2,000 years later.

We, too, are not to go back to the stink, but ahead ahead ahead!

We are to raise our tired eyes and our empty hands and in a rebellious act of will say, Thank You, Father, thank You thank You thank You. 

Thank You for the good and thank You for the hard and thank You for your pressing hand and thank You for how You will “work it all for good for we who love You and are called according to Your purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Perhaps the prophet Habakkuk said it best.

He really leaves us no room for doubt, when pondering all.

All means all.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

 “Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

I will thank Him for it all.

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