The List (Thoughts on Thanksgiving)
When November rolls around, people start making The List.
“I’m thankful for my husband.”
“I’m thankful for food on my table.”
“I’m thankful for my favorite sweater.”
“I’m thankful for the chance to go to the theater tonight.”
It's sweet to watch. It reminds me of a kid gathering up all his favorite toys into a pile and feeling all warm and fuzzy about owning them.
But if this is as far as we ever go with thankfulness, The List can also stir up questions.
The List can make us fearful about losing something on it.
The List can make us remember people who were once close to us but proved harmful.
The List can even make us feel a little dishonest, because there are parts of life that have hurt so deeply that what's left feels more like a consolation prize than a grand stash.
The List pokes at us like a finger in the shoulder. We are glad for it, but there has to be more to thankfulness than this.
There’s a story in the book of Luke about a guy who has made The List.
He’s done the inventory, and he's sitting before the pile. It warms him to see his abundance, and he's so grateful that he has made plan to protect The List long term.
"But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’"
The same is true for us. In a flash it could all be gone.
Relationships break down.
Jobs get lost.
There is violence, and war, and chaos.
There are corrupt leaders and economic crises.
And even though it’s important to be thankful for gifts like snow, or chai lattes, or warm beds, or having your kids home for the weekend... none of that is big enough to turn the inevitable question mark that lingers at the end of every statement of thanks into a period.
The subject of thankfulness is you, but for it mean much, there needs to be receiver for the verb.
Thankful to whom?
The past few years of our lives have been a mighty stripping down.
So many things that would have been on my list ten years ago are gone.
I’ve seen my children hurt. I’ve seen my husband wounded. I've been embarrassed, and angry, and disillusioned, and fatigued. I’ve seen trusted friends turn into enemies. I’ve walked in spiritual and economic deserts. I’ve come face to face with doubts about who God is and why He works the way he does.
And though I could sit down and collect blessings a mile long of things that I still have going for me, the intense pain of our past few years makes me restless.
I can’t make my list without also knowing how untrustworthy it is.
So I’m sobered this Thanksgiving.
I’m sobered to limp up to the throne of God and kneel before a Being who sometimes makes life gentle and easy, and who sometimes tells Job to get over himself, even after that poor man had lost everything he ever had.
Well, he lost everything except for the God who could speak to a broken man like this:
“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
It is changed like clay under the seal,
features stand out like a garment.
From the wicked their flight is withheld,
their uplifted arm is broken.
“Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.
“Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
and where is the place of darkness,
that you may take it to its territory
and that you may discern the paths to its home?
It's become one of my favorite passages in the whole Bible, and God doesn't stop here, either. He goes on and on.
I am God. You are not. I am God. You are not. I am God. You are not.
You are here to worship me.
The thought of that sort of God is abhorrent to moderns who prefer a flannel board Jesus who never roars so loud that the foundations of the earth would tremble.
But to me it is exciting. It yanks me up out of my melancholy and my silly assessment of knick knacks that I try to use like a pacifier in a troubling world.
It shows me what cannot be stolen from me. Ever. No matter what.
The lover of my soul.
He is other. He is creative. He is mysterious. He is singular.
His strength is thrilling. His complexity is electric. His purity is blinding. His power is infinite.
Such a God chases me.
About ten years ago I prayed that God would give me one passion. Himself.
I didn't think at the time about what that prayer might entail. I was so much younger then, and though I was sincere, I prayed it like a simple request.
Now I wonder if to answer that prayer, the Lord has had to pull my fingers off The List. I wonder if love is propelling Him to remove what prevented me from holding to Him above all?
Because the parable about the foolish rich man with too much stuff ends with a scold:
"So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
And so it is with Thanksgiving.
Yes, I am thankful for the good gifts that fill my life. But even if all of those things were stripped from me, the Prime Mover, the I AM, the center of all that exists loves me.
This is where the safest, the deepest, and the richest of all gratitude begins.