Ok, I admit it. I’ve had a hard time getting excited about Thanksgiving this year. It’s not just the holiday itself, which will be different than any other in my lifetime. No, my challenge goes deeper than that. I don’t know how to get in the spirit of the day, to be genuinely thankful in a year that has brought so much difficulty, pain, and loss.
I recently shared my struggle with a small group of friends over Zoom. I also shared about the loss of a good friend, and how I was trying to cope with it all. The word I used to describe my feelings was overwhelmed. They listened with genuine empathy—knowing I had been heard was such a gift. A little later, one of them sent me a thoughtful email, along with a short film he had made that spoke to what I was going through. Exactly what I needed.
What I’ve come to realize is something I probably should have figured out a long time ago. Thanksgiving isn’t about the turkey, the stuffing, or the mashed potatoes—as good as those things are. It’s not about getting a break from the daily grind—as nice as that is. No, it’s about the people God brings alongside you on the journey, those who share in not only in life’s joys, but also in its sorrows.
The Apostle Paul understood this. Writing from prison, he begins his heartfelt letter to the church at Philippi by saying, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil 1: 4-5). I’m probably not the only one who has felt like 2020 has felt like a sort of prison—staying inside, hiding behind a mask, wondering when this will all come to an end. Yet Paul somehow finds joy in the midst of difficult circumstances. How? Later he lets us in on his secret, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” Yes, that’s the key. And then he adds this, “Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.” That makes a world of difference.
So this Thanksgiving, what am I thankful for? Christ, who gives me strength in the midst of difficulty. And I’m thankful you: my gospel partners, my fellow sufferers, my friends in Christ.
Chris Lake co-founded the Vere Institute (Oct 2014 – May 2021) to empower Christians to integrate their faith into everyday life, their “frontlines.” Chris continues to serve pastors through offering transitional coaching. You can find him on LinkedIn. The Vere Institute’s legacy lives on through our Vere Library, a republishing of many of their written works.