“Dumpster fire.” “Trash can.” “Hot mess.”
Such are the suggested titles for 2020, this year we’re all eager to forget. The pandemic that prompted us to hunker down for “two weeks” has smoldered for ten months. Riots are a weekly occurrence. The death toll rises, pitching countless families into grief. Before and after the election, every headline simmers with outrage.
This Thanksgiving, it’s hard to glean reasons to be thankful.
As the holiday approaches, the atmosphere in our house is bittersweet. For the past decade we’ve especially treasured Thanksgiving as a time to open our home to whomever the Lord might guide through our doors. The company has often surprised us — neighbors some years, family others, church friends and seminary students still more, and some Novembers guests from as far away as Kenya have joined us at table. Every year, when we’ve wiped the last dish and have finally cleared the last stray pie crumbs from the kitchen table, we’ve marveled at how the Lord brings brothers and sisters together across generations, lifestyles, and continents, connected only by their love of His Son.
It sickens our hearts, therefore, to realize how gravely this year will differ from those we’ve treasured. As the coronavirus continues its relentless grind, devouring piecemeal our beloved traditions of table fellowship, Thanksgiving is poised to be yet another casualty. The affair will be small, meager, and solitary. The house, usually bustling with fellowship, will be empty and quiet.
And yet, the causes for thanksgiving and praise, even in a year when everything has appeared to go wrong, will be no less bountiful. The table will be vacant — but so is the tomb. The platters won’t overflow in abundance — but God’s steadfast love for us always does, even now. He remains sovereign even over 2020. While we cannot join hands at table, in Christ, we will be joined with Him in the heavenly realm for all eternity.
In his first letter to the church at Thessalonica, Paul urges his brothers and sisters to persevere, clinging to the hope of Christ’s return and the ushering in of the new heavens and the new earth. He encourages the following: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18) He doesn’t urge them to give thanks only when it goes well, but in all circumstances. Such trust in the workings of the Lord reflects the truth that He is at work in all things — not just the ample tables and the easy moments, but the hard moments too, the illness and the disappointments, the loneliness and the unrest, all of it — for the good of those who love him (Rom. 8:28). Just as Joseph’s brothers meant his enslavement for evil, God worked through their actions for good, to save many lives and fulfill his promise to Israel (Gen. 50:20). And even now, His Son is at work, interceding for us, preparing a home for us, out of exquisite love for us.
This Thanksgiving won’t look like other years. It won’t reflect the traditions and principles we’ve so highly treasured. But the reasons for thanks will still overflow. Some will be easy to identify and lift up (in our own home, we’re thankful that the Lord has carried us through this season securely, and that the imposed restrictions have brought longer spells of calm and quiet for Pip to handle his sensory processing disorder). But even the facets that don’t seem like blessings at all, but rather pests and pestilence, offer cause, perhaps unclear to us, to praise the Lord, who is sovereign even over these. As with the fleas that troubled Corrie ten Boom in Auschwitz, but kept the Nazi soldiers at bay, God works even through our afflictions for good.
I pray this Thanksgiving that the Lord bless and keep your family, showing you His steadfast love and faithfulness, which endures forever. And I pray you and I can perceive that love however the holiday unfolds in our homes, whatever headlines blaze across the media, and whatever fleas nip at us in the dead of night.
Blessings to you and yours as 2020 draws to an end.