If I asked you to list some things you are grateful for in the year 2020, what would you say? In a trying year like this one, it can be far easier to list challenges, tragedies, complaints, disappointments, and frustrations. This Thanksgiving, it’s highly likely that the thing many people are most grateful for is a new year being on the horizon. However, as families gather this holiday season, I want to challenge everyone to look not only to the future but also to reflect upon the past. There is far more to be thankful for this year than we likely have taken the time to consider.
We cannot always control whether our circumstances get better or worse, but we can choose how we will respond. Scripture exhorts us to rejoice always (Philippians 4:4), learn the secret of being content (Philippians 4:12), and give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We do not know what tomorrow will bring, and a new year does not necessarily equal a better one. But we do know that God holds the future, and we are called to remember His praiseworthy deeds, thank Him for what He has done, and trust Him for what He will do.
The Thanksgiving holiday is historically a day to remember the pilgrims and the founding of America, and traditionally a day to gather with family and friends to count our blessings. But being thankful ought not to start and stop on Thanksgiving Day.
Unfortunately, gratitude is an increasingly dying art in our culture, and Thanksgiving has become a mere speed bump on the way to Christmas. Far too often, we focus on what we want rather than being thankful for all we have.
God does not waste anything—not even 2020. Sometimes, trials we face may seem wasted when we are not paying attention and learning from our experiences. Everything that we see, hear, and feel is used by God to teach us. “[B]ut we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
Instead of despising 2020 or wishing it were over, we can seek the beauty in the ashes. Consider Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie’s response to their difficult circumstances while being held in Auschwitz, a Nazi concentration camp. These sisters walked through the valley of the shadow of death together; it is hard to imagine anything in Auschwitz worth being grateful for. However, Betsie constantly encouraged everyone in her bunker to be grateful. One day, Betsie said that she was grateful for the fleas that infested their mattresses. Yes, the fleas! The guards hated the fleas and would not enter the bunker. This meant they could worship together without intrusion, and that was worth being grateful for.
The year 2020 has been hard, but it is thankfully not Auschwitz. We have much more than fleas for which to be grateful this year. As you carve the turkey, decorate cookies, roast corn, sit by the fire, sing hymns, or whatever your Thanksgiving traditions might be—and even if you are lonely this Thanksgiving—remember that we need not be anxious for anything, for the Lord has and will continue to supply all our needs in Christ Jesus (Matthew 6:25).
I am grateful for how 2020 has taught me to be humble before the Lord, to surrender my plans to Him, to trust Him in all circumstances, and to run with endurance the race set before me—not because I know what the journey will hold, but because I have hope in the final outcome, which is God’s glory and my sanctification. Being grateful is challenging because it requires us to forsake selfishness, whining, and complaining and embrace contentment. If the art of gratitude were easy, we would not need to be commanded and encouraged to cultivate it. Saying we are thankful once a year on Thanksgiving will not resurrect the dying art of gratitude. Rather, we must endeavor to start and end each day with a grateful heart.