My mother refused to stuff the stuffing in the turkey. A nurse by training, it seemed to her a health risk. Making the cavity of a turkey into a petri dish of simmering bacteria was not going to happen in our house on her watch. Instead, the stuffing went into a “cornflower” Corningware dish and was baked until it formed a crunchy top. That is an indelible (so far!) Thanksgiving memory for me. No doubt you have yours too.
This year, I will again conjure up that stuffing-of-another-era as the paradigm by which whatever stuffing I eat will be measured. This year, however, I will do so knowing that I alone am left to tend that memory. With the death of my brother this past summer, no one is left to share the recollection. My Thanksgiving is tinged with grief.
The apostle Paul counseled the Christians of Thessalonica to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) As we all assemble some sort of inventory for that which sparks gratitude within, I’m not sure our lists will include “all circumstances.” Do I give thanks for my grief?
It seems easy to give thanks for the good things of life: the roof over my head; the abundant table before me; the family that loved, and still loves me. I occasionally catch myself, however, giving thanks as if I were the source of abundance. I say thank you mostly to myself. It is the turn to thanking God in everything that is key. “When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” ― G.K. Chesterton
Thomas Merton, the monk and spiritual guide of our age said, “To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us - and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.
Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.”
There is that all encompassing gratitude Paul spoke about again. Give thanks for the love of God in everything. Even in the grief. Even in illness. Even in pain. Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood why I should give thanks even in my grief this season: “Gratitude transforms the torment of memory of good things now gone into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.” That certainty comes from letting the memory rest in God.
It is all in the preposition we use to express our thanks. We usually say we are thankful “for” things. Notice however, how Paul speaks of his “boasting,” which can be translated “have joy,” or I would argue, “give thanks” in Romans 5: “And not only that, but we also boast (have joy – give thanks) in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
I don’t thank God FOR my suffering; but IN my suffering. Into the pain, or the grief, I invite God’s life and light to take hold of everything. Resurrection happens when I thank God for being God IN the travail of living. Maybe the opposite makes more sense too. IN my abundance, IN my joy, IN my full table, I thank God for being God and allowing me the mercies and grace of the day. Giving thanks IN all things makes all things not simply appreciated, but Holy.
May we give thanks to God in all the joy and pain of this life.
Pastor Tim Olson
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Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
A congregation of the Southeastern Iowa Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
517 SW Des Moines St.
Ankeny, IA 50023
Worship Schedule - Online only through April 10
Saturdays at 5:30 pm
Sundays at 8:30 and 10:00 am
Wednesdays at 6:00 pm