The Thanksgiving Cousin

Thanksgiving is here and with it comes time for reflecting on what we are thankful for. It has always been one of my favorite holidays with my relatives. But Thanksgiving seems to have one cousin that sneaks in the door with him every year. Try to keep him out and he still makes his way in. His name is Suffering. He wasn’t invited, but he comes. A day focused on giving thanks, yet there at the table, suffering is still present. And most of the time we aren’t sure what to do with him.

I remember the year 1996 because it was the year my mom passed away from ALS. And when Thanksgiving came around, it was the first time she was not sitting with us as we ate too much turkey and avoided our vegetables. Thanksgiving did not remove the pain of her absence, but rather it seemed to intensify it. Thanksgiving together with suffering.

Just yesterday I watched my wife care for 2 children who are not ours. These beautiful children were covered in head lice. In fact, their childhood has been marked with head lice and fatherlessness. That won’t change on Thanksgiving. They will have turkey at their table (thanks to some generous families in our church) but suffering will be right there with them.

Every one of us could pull up our sleeve to show a scar that suffering has left us this Thanksgiving. Suffering does not discriminate, but he comes to us all. So how can we genuinely give thanks when suffering is in the room?

1. Recognize

Recognize suffering is part of our story. We don’t need to ignore it, or hide it. Our story is not one of ease, but one of struggle. We all have battles and with those battles come suffering. It’s not our entire story, but suffering is a part of who we are as humanity and as individuals and communities. Our lives are filled with both beauty and brokenness. We don’t have to be fake and pretend we are immune to suffering, but rather we can honestly recognize it’s presence.

2. Remember

Remember we have a God who understands. The entire Christian faith is built on the reality that God came and suffered for us. Jesus came in flesh and blood and felt pain, hunger, heartache, loss, betrayal, fatigue, and even death. We do not have a God who is unfamiliar with suffering, but one who knows it first hand. He has tasted it Himself, and He understands our suffering. When we suffer, He knows what that’s like. He identifies with the weak and hurting. The broken hearted are close to his heart and are not left alone.

3. Redeem

We often think suffering has no purpose. That’s why we attempt to avoid it. But in the sufferings of Christ we see that suffering serves a great purpose of redemption. He suffered and died, and His death paid for our sin. His suffering was not meaningless, and therefore that shows us that our suffering is not meaningless either! Rather it’s working for us an eternal glory that will be far sweeter because of what we went through. Suffering does not have to leave the room when we give thanks. Rather, we can give thanks amidst the suffering because of the ultimate good that will come through it. In Christ, suffering is redeemed!

4. Rejoice

So Rejoice! Suffering does not win the day, but thanksgiving does! On the night Jesus was betrayed, he told his disciples over a meal that he would not drink wine again until he drinks it new in the kingdom. He was pointing to the hope we have of his return when there will be no more suffering! He will wipe away every tear from our eyes and sin and suffering will be gone for good. And there we will share with him around his banquet table a glorious feast where he will raise up his sleeve and show us his scars of suffering, and we will all raise our glass in thanksgiving to our God who has worked all things for our good and His glory. In this hope, we rejoice!

 

“And we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” – Romans 5:2-5

“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good and His steadfast love endures forever.” – Psalm 107:1