November 24, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NRSV)
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Scripture urges us to give thanks in all circumstances. Sometimes this is hard, especially in seasons of loss and suffering. But, by God’s grace, we can freely share both our gratitude and our pain. We can be thankful even if we are also grieving today.
Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. Ideally, this is a day for residents of the U.S. to offer thanks to God for his many blessings. Yet, for many people, holiday celebrations also stir up sadness. This is especially true for those who have lost loved ones recently . . . or, really, not so recently. We may wonder if and how we can be thankful even in a time of loss.
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul urged them to “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess 5:18). Notice that Paul did not tell them to be thankful for everything. We don’t thank God for things that are evil. But we are to thank God in everything, in all situations, in times of trial and times of rejoicing.
This was not just theoretical for Paul and his Thessalonian brothers and sisters. In chapter 4 of his letter, Paul talked about how some of them were grieving because members of their church family had died (1 Thessalonians 4:13). He did not forbid feeling and expressing sadness. But Paul did urge them not to grieve as people who have no hope. The fact that we will one day be together with the Lord gives us hope and helps us to encourage each other (1 Thessalonians 4:17-18). This also enables us to give thanks to God even when we are grieving. We can “give thanks in all circumstances.”
I experienced a moving example of this kind of gratitude in one of the Thanksgiving Eve services at Irvine Presbyterian Church, where I was a pastor for sixteen years. During a time in which any worshiper could offer up prayers of thanks, an older woman named Betty began to pray. I wondered what she would say because she had only recently lost her husband. “Lord,” she said, “I want to thank you for my dear husband, Dick. He was such a wonderful man and we had such a beautiful life together. Thank you for Dick and his life. Lord, you know I miss him terribly these days. But I thank you that his suffering is over and that he is now with you. Thank you, Lord, for always being with us and always loving us.”
When Betty finished, there wasn’t a dry eye in the sanctuary. She demonstrated powerfully that, yes, it is possible to be grateful even amid painful losses. Part of what I appreciated in Betty’s prayer was her acknowledgment of her pain in missing her husband. She didn’t pretend that everything was just fine. But she was able to feel and communicate gratitude to God in the midst of her sadness.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving today, many of us will have a mix of feelings. This has not been an easy year for our country, or for our world. It’s projected that around 100,000 people in the U.S. will die from COVID in 2021. About twelve times that many will die from heart disease or cancer, not to mention other causes. This means that as we gather for Thanksgiving dinner, millions upon millions of us will feel the loss of loved ones. Grieving will be shared along with turkey and pumpkin pie.
But I hope that we will also share our gratitude, even and especially gratitude for those who are no longer seated at our tables. May God give us the same grace he gave to Betty, who openly and freely shared her sorrow and her gratitude both with the Lord and with those of us who loved her. Grief and gratitude are meant to be shared, even and especially today.
Can you think of a time when you experienced both sadness and gratitude?
How does our hope in Christ affect the way we grieve?
Are you missing someone special in your life these days? Do you feel free to share your sadness with the Lord and also your gratitude?
Perhaps you need God’s grace to grieve with gratitude. If so, ask for this grace.
Gracious God, you made us with the capacity to feel both joy and sorrow. And sometimes, joy and sorrow are intermingled in our hearts; also, grieving and gratitude.
Thank you for the freedom we have to be honest with you in prayer. We don’t have pretend that everything’s great. We can tell you truth. Such a gift!
On this Thanksgiving Day, help me, Lord, to share honestly with you and with those whom I love and who love me. May we offer our thanks to you even when it’s mixed with sadness. Teach us, Lord, you to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Hopeful Grief: Is It Possible?
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.