The week after Halloween, we noticed a Christmas tree lit up through a neighbor's window. Then we saw another. And another. I started counting the number of Christmas trees I saw. I quit when I reached a dozen. A dozen I figure is a trend. My neighbor down the street has already put up his outdoor Christmas lights, putting pressure on all the rest of the neighborhood.
Thanksgiving this year will be different for so many families. People are afraid to travel, older folks are afraid to gather, and who wants to get together with your crazy cousin who attacks you based on who you voted for?
Maybe that is why we have gone from the sugar rush of Halloween straight to the hope of Christmas. Thanksgiving is a speed bump this year. There will be no audience at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and no cross-conference rivalry games. Just today, I saw an article about people buying smaller turkeys because they will not be feeding as many people this Thanksgiving. Makes me feel kind of sorry for all the fat turkeys.
Many of us will be glad to see 2020 go. We endured months of quarantine, dwindling supplies of toilet paper, masks and separation from our loved ones. Some families lost their loved ones. Medical personnel, pastors and caregivers are fatigued and burned out. On top of the pandemic, we endured riots, debates, relentless political ads and a yo-yo economy. It has been a stormy year.
In the Psalms, there are songs of lament. These are prayers made to God in stormy times. When you read them, what strikes you is how many include words of thanks. How can you thank God in stormy times?
You thank God in stormy times by refocusing. You set aside your anxieties and look at your life from God's perspective. This requires being "non-me-centric" for a few minutes. This change of view will cause you to see gifts from God you might have taken for granted.
You realize life is a gift. God did not have to allow you to be born. He did not have to intervene to keep you alive. God did not even have to design your incredible body that breathes without conscious thought and processes food into energy without your concentration. When was the last time you thanked God for a body that functions as well as it does?
Most of us have people in our lives that love us. Do you think those people just came into your life by accident? One of my closest friendships happened because I was assigned to share an office in grad school. Accident or divine gift? When is the last time you thanked God for the people in your life who encourage you and tell you the truth?
Keep looking at your life from God's perspective. Most of you reading this column have more than you need. Our economy emphasizes what you do not have in order to sell you more. But consider your closet. There have been kings in history who had fewer clothes than you have. When was the last time you thanked God not just for what you have but for having more than you need?
I think sometimes about the life of my great-grandfather, who took his young wife and small children and made a wagon trip from North Florida to South Central Florida. That trip must have taken him weeks. I can drive it in four-and-a-half hours. I don't know why God allowed me to live in a time of easy transportation and indoor plumbing, but I am grateful for both. When was the last time you thanked God for letting you live now, instead of a different era of time?
Especially in stormy times, God holds us. He gives us strength. He teaches patience. He provides hope. Our anxieties can blind us to God's gifts of character. Character is formed in that part of your soul that is eternal. When was the last time you gave thanks for God's hand forming your soul?
If you are a Jesus follower, there is of course the greatest gift of God. The idea of being a "sinner" is off-putting to people, but to accept that label is to embrace the deepest truth about our lives: We are broken people. No one has it all together; some people just hide it better than others. A Jesus follower chooses to believe that God, who is rich in mercy, sent his Son to earth to pay the penalty for our sins and to offer us a different life, a new birth. When you embrace Jesus, it means your failure does not define you or determine your future; your relationship with God does. He is not merely a benevolent being; God is your Heavenly Father. You are adopted into his family. No matter what storms come, nothing changes how much your Heavenly Father loves you. When was the last time you thanked God for welcoming you into his family?
Don't rush past Thanksgiving. Get perspective. Give thanks.
The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Bapist Church in Sumter. Email him at email@example.com.
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