Earlier this week a colleague and I were talking about the past year. Our conversation started with me sighing as I warmed my hands on my coffee mug.

“Where did this year go? I feel like it just started and soon it will be December!”

Stella looked up at me in surprise, “We were just talking about that earlier!” She shook her head, “I don’t know where the year went. I feel like we haven’t lived it at all. It was January, and now it will be soon again. What happened in between? I don’t know…”

For some people this year has been terrible hard. A lot happened for them. They lost loved ones to a horrid disease, or a sudden onslaught of a virus that everyone thought would stay in China. Others lost their jobs, their income, and will consider themselves fortunate to have a chicken for dinner this Thursday – they aren’t even thinking about feasting, get togethers, or thanks.

What is Thanksgiving — really?

Thanksgiving. Is it a holiday, an action, or an attitude? I could be wrong, but taking into consideration the way COVID-19 has ravaged the nations, the political unrest that is no longer in those other countries – its right here, amongst us – wherever we are… taking all that into consideration, I’m guessing that Thanksgiving, for many of us, is an effort. It is a challenge. I dare say, that for many – Thanksgiving is a choice.

Definitions …. Again? Do you have to?

You know me too well. Yeah, I have to. But let me tell you why. As an English writer and editor, I can take words for granted. Seriously! I can use certain words so much, that I forget what they really mean. Who cares? Why is that important?

It is important because ultimately, language communicates a message, and that message helps to shape what we think and affects what we do.

If I think that Thanksgiving is only a family gathering around a table piled high with too much food, I will approach it far differently than if I think of it as a difficult task that I have to perform whether I want to or not.

Webster’s Dictionary gives three seemingly simple definitions of “thanksgiving”: 1) capitalized, “Thanksgiving Day” – a public acknowledgement or celebration of divine goodness; 2) the act of giving thanks; 3) a prayer expressing gratitude.

But I have to delve through a pile of words to finally get to the meaning of thanks: “appreciative of benefits received.”

Wow – All that in one word?

As I sit and reread the definition of “Thanksgiving Day” I realize why some people object to the holiday at all. They do not want to acknowledge any “divine goodness,” because to do so forces God into the conversation and the day. For others, the “act of giving thanks” seems more like a demand or requirement rather than a spontaneous response. Let’s be honest, it is hard to say “thankyou” to God for the past year – especially in prayer. Doing that forces me out of the shell of numbness, depression, and self-pity that so easily sidelines me these days.

This year is the most thanksgiving-challenged year I can recall

Wrapped up in my cocoon of self, I find that this year is the most thanksgiving-challenged I’ve ever experienced. Its strange, I have hope, but without a spirit of thanksgiving, my hope feels so distant. I think a lot about heaven these days. And then I read scripture a bit more, think about who God is more, and realize that I look at circumstances, situations, life, this whole past year, through the lens of the reality of this world – there is very little real hope and thanksgiving has a bitter hard edge to it.

Its easy to forget the source of my joy

Something funny happened a couple of days ago. I woke up feeling terribly grumpy. It was rainy and dreary out. I began to hum a song we’d sung in college as I looked outside, “I saw raindrops on my window, joy is like the rain…”. I mulled the words, wondering, how did that song go? By the time I got to work, I was feeling a little bit of the joy that song is about, and by the end of the day, I was able to do so much more than I’d been able to do in days.

You can listen to the entire song below. Since the song is copyrighted, it isn’t legal for me to copy all the words here. However, the first verse goes “I saw raindrops on the window, | Joy is like the rain. | Laughter runs across my pain, | Slips away and comes again, | Joy is like the rain. (Words and music by Miriam Therese Winter; © 1965 by Medical Mission Sisters)

Listen to the Original Recording

I was surprised to learn that the author of the song wrote this when faced with a huge disappointment – acceptance of change of direction that would impact her entire life and meant giving up a dream she’d had since her youth.

As I consider her story and the words of this song, and how my spirits were lifted as I sang this song to myself, I realize that I’d forgotten the reason for my joy.

The joy of the LORD is my strength – not the joy of the world

It is so easy to be focused on what is happening around us. When things are going well and everything seems to be in control, it’s easy to say that God is in charge. But what about when everything seems out of control? What about when a little virus has shown us how much we are not in control of our own lives? What about when political systems, economy, health, and live itself is being turned upside down by trying to “control” an out of control virus?

And yet, while singing a song I’d learned way back in college, my joy was restored and I found new strength – not in the world – but in my wonderful Lord and Savior.

Thanksgiving is a choice

This year, more than I ever, I realize that Thanksgiving is not just a holiday, an action, a prayer, or an attitude – thanksgiving is a choice. Yes, we do have so much to complain about and there is much to grieve. We have all, in some way or another experienced irreparable loss in 2020. Maybe its as small as “where did the year go?”. But for most of us, its actually greater loss than that. And yet, in it all, there must be at least one small thing we can find to give thanks for. And perhaps, now is the time, to express begin expressing that gratitude to the source of all joy – our God and creator and Lord Jesus.

The Thanksgiving challenge

I don’t usually ask this, but I’d like to challenge you to express your thanks, publicly, for at least ONE thing, here in the comments. If you are reading this post from your email, click the link in this email to view it in your browser, scroll to the bottom of the page, and submit your comment. You won’t see it right away if you’ve never posted before because I need to approve all comments (to prevent spam).

Join me in choosing to give thanks, even if you don’t feel like it. Join me in fighting this battle against grief, depression, despair, and hopelessness by giving thanks for what really counts! And actually, if we stop to think about it, there is a lot to give things for.

I’ll start…

I am thankful for YOU. The fact that you are reading my blog so encourages me. It reminds me that we are all in this together. I am thankful that even if you don’t agree with me on everything, you are here with me in this battle.

I am thankful that the God of creation really truly loves and cares for me (and you). I am thankful that I have what I need, and that He is taking good care of me.

I am thankful that I do have a home in eternity – but I am also thankful for this life in the here and now that He has given, and for every new opportunity to grow and mature in Him, and for Him to use me to encourage and bless others.

I am so very thankful for the friendship of Jesus, my Savior, my intercessor, my shepherd, my life.

Now it’s your turn. What are you thankful for?