Each year the beginning of November awakens a deep sense of thankfulness within me that seems to be deeper and wider than any other time of the year.
As I reflect on thankfulness and the past 364 days… I keep coming back to the most basic question- For what things are we thankful?
Conventional wisdom would indicate that we are usually thankful when life is good- or- when things go our way- or when things work out in our favor. And while we may not be great at giving thanks to God on a regular basis during the good times, we each know that the regular rhythm of our life ought to be in thanksgiving to God.
However, and maybe to your surprise, the Scriptures go even further than simply giving thanks during the good times. They point us to a place where we give thanks in our pain, our heartache, our weakness, and in our loss.
The truth is that, in regular practice, we usually only give thanks to God for the good things but rarely, if ever, give thanks to God for the pain we experience, the hurt that pierces our soul, or for the things that rip out our hearts. Even though the Apostle Paul implores the Christian to “give thanks in everything,” and that means both the good and the bad, we have a hard time reconciling why we ought to be thankful for the pain, suffering, heartache, and loss we are experiencing.
It’s not too much of a stretch to admit that while we aren’t even that good at giving thanks for the “easy things”… we are even worse when it comes to giving thanks for the “difficult” things.
There is no question that from the outside looking in… giving thanks for our pain, heartache, weakness, and loss may be viewed as foolishness. But for those of us in Christ we have the profound understanding that God’s grace is immeasurably sufficient and that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. So we take joy and give thanks to God for our hardship, for it is through our weakness that the power of Christ is displayed. Despite all human reason and convention, and even while the average person may suffer in his weakness, doubting how thanks could be given in such painful circumstances, those who know Christ are joyful and thankful for their hardship. And there is only one explanation for something that seems so upside-down- It is the power of Christ at work in those who are weak.
And while I could write this post… and probably do a fairly adequate job of further explaining what the Bible says about giving thanks to God through our painful experiences… and sharing how we ought to be… and how we ought to be doing it… I wouldn’t really be speaking from my own personal experience. Granted, I deal with chronic body pain on a daily basis and it is burdensome, but it just doesn’t rise to the level of suffering and pain that so many other people experience.
So I started thinking about a handful of personal friends, each of whom follow Jesus faithfully on a daily basis, but who have also suffered immeasurable pain, by anyone’s standards, recently and over the last several years. I had a burning question for each of them that needed an answer, but I wasn’t sure what they would say or how they would respond if I had the audacity to ask, “Through your painful experience, have you given thanks to God for your pain, hardship, heartache, and suffering?”
While I intuitively know the heart of the Scriptures and the example of Christ, the inner skeptic kept repeating to me that there is no way my friends had been giving thanks to God through their terrible situations. From a human perspective, what they have all been through did not warrant thanksgiving to God. If any feelings or response would be justified in their situations, it ought to be resentment, bitterness, and anger, right?
As I received their answers I realized how wrong the inner skeptic had been. Their responses brought tears to my eyes. Their thanksgiving… in their weakest moments… exemplified and gave testimony to the profound power of God. And you need to hear what each of them had to say.
Over the next few weeks before Thanksgiving, I am going to share these stories straight from each of my friends. Let me take a moment to introduce each of them to you.
I went to high school and played basketball with Scott. Today, Scott lives in North Carolina with his wife and four kids and runs his own construction company, Sandusky Construction. One day this past August, he was operating a self-dumping trailer all alone. The bed of the dumping trailer was partially raised when the batteries running the hydraulics ran low. Scott unhooked his truck from the trailer turning it around to get power from his truck battery. The load that was still in the dump trailer suddenly slid to the back of the trailer causing it to surge forward crushing Scott’s right leg against his truck. While coming to edge of his life on several occasions due to loss of blood, Scott survived but had to have his right leg amputated.
I met Trish in 2005 when our church heard about a little girl, Kate Madigan, who was diagnosed with a childhood cancer, known as neuroblastoma at the young age of 3. After approximately five weeks of vague symptoms that ranged from knee pain to general lethargy, Kate was diagnosed with this cancer on October 30th, 2005. The following week, the family was told that Kate had Stage 4 neuroblastoma and it had spread to her bone marrow. This type of childhood cancer has very vague symptoms and 70% of the cases are initially discovered at stage 4. Over the last seven years, the Madigan family has dealt with more pain and suffering, up’s and down’s, questions and uncertainties than anyone could ever comprehend and this small summary does not do justice to everything they have been through.
I met Kristen about five years ago during an ArtNite that our church hosted. Kristen is an independent singer/songwriter who plays the guitar and plans to make it her career. Kristen was in her third semester at Belmont University in Nashville, TN studying commercial voice when she got in a serious auto accident. Kristen sustained several serious injuries in her left hand which caused her to lose both of her little and index fingers. The remaining three fingers sustained considerable nerve damage. After the accident, Kristen withdrew from classes to reserve all efforts toward her healing, which included having to relearn playing her guitar. For a singer/songwriter, this was devastating.
Please look for their powerful stories of thanksgiving over the next few weeks.