I’m no longer very young, but I’m not very old either. I fall somewhere right around the “beginning of my prime.” People my age are hitting their stride, starting families, tending careers, and living life the way you live when you’re no longer very young. But suddenly it seems that all around me, people my age are also experiencing sorrow and hardship in ways you never should when you’re not so very old.
This year my friend’s husband died of a rare cancer. Just a few weeks after they had their third child, he underwent a drastic surgery, but even such extreme measures proved futile. There was nothing that could be done. Nothing at all. He was only 37. They were only married six years. Their baby boy just turned one.
Another friend -- she’s pregnant with twins and going to see the doctor twice a week due to complications. So far everything is still okay . . . but they are the kind of complications that, if they develop, often end in great sadness.
Then, just this month, some friends lost everything in a house fire. After a year of moving, they had just finished unpacking all their belongings from storage. They had just finalized renovations on the house. They were at church on a Sunday morning while their dog died inside their burning home. Their fourth child is due this month.
I have also had my share of health problems this year that have seemingly directed and shaped my life more than God’s plan or providence. I know full well things could be worse . . . but I also know things haven’t been easy.
So that was my year, and there has been very little prime about it. Instead, unexpected pain and premature loss put lines on our faces and teach us how to grow old. Most days, “hitting my stride” doesn’t feel anything like I thought it would.
I’m willing to bet this could be your year too, couldn’t it? Perhaps you’re in a different phase of life, and there are different people, situations, and heartaches that you think upon. But I’m sure as you reflect, the months are marked by sagging shoulders, whitewashed cheeks, and angry questions. Maybe not every month. Maybe each sorrow is not as heavy as the last. But I’m sure you can see it. I’m sure it is there.
Or, maybe this was a “good” year and you can’t point to any such circumstances. Instead, you give what feels like a hard-earned sigh of relief that, at least this year, you made it through, and you brace yourself hoping that next year you’ll be just as fortunate.
God above, save us, for this life is hard.
Father in heaven, I thought You did, so why is there still so much misery and grief?
Why is life still so hard?
These have been my prayers this year. I know I’m not alone in them.
So, for what shall we give thanks? When life is unforgiving and our hearts grow hard? When all the verses filled with all the things we have to be grateful for -- should be thankful for -- crumble to dust in our mouths? When God seems missing and we have nothing at night to warm us except the questions we never dared ask before?
Are You really there? Do You even care? Are You faithful? Are You good? Why do I trust in You?
In those moments, and in the days that fill the long, empty spaces between them, for what shall we give thanks? What’s more, in this season dedicated to giving thanksgiving to God for His provision and protection, His blessings and benevolence, for what shall we give thanks when pain and suffering seem so much more abundant?
Wanting a real answer and not a greeting card, I looked up the Pilgrims. For what did they give thanks? Those 53 gaunt souls who survived two months tossing at sea and six months crammed on a little, wooden ship. Who saw 59 members of their party die -- 59 husbands and wives, children and parents, fading away from disease under a cold, gray sky while rocking back and forth on the cold, black water. Who had little when they left and nothing when they landed. Who trusted God and had every reason to doubt Him. Even a year later the reality of the struggle, loss, and grief must have weighed heavier than any hope of survival, much less prolonged success.
For what did they give thanks?
They gave thanks to God because “although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want. . . .” (Edward Winslow, Mourt’s Relation, 1622; emphasis added.) They gave thanks in bounty when their blessings were obvious.
Then, they persevered and continued to give thanks to God, “that their children may see with what difficulties their fathers wrestled in going through these things in their first beginnings, and how God brought them along notwithstanding all their weaknesses and infirmities.” (William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, 1647; emphasis added.) They gave thanks in want, believing it was by God’s hand alone that they survived and were able to press on.
Attempting to push past deep pain in an effort to “count your many blessings” belittles hurting hearts. It also does not take seriously the fact that we live in a broken, dying world that makes it a daily struggle to look up and praise an unseen God. There is no easy answer for people facing the why of suffering. Trying to give one can be obtuse -- especially when God Himself often doesn’t answer the question. So, when given no answers and feeling no comfort, for what shall we give thanks?
It is a simple and broken prayer, but I hope that, in blessing and in want, my voice echoes the voices of those Pilgrims who have gone before. I hope, dear pilgrim, that yours does too.
Thank You, God, for sustaining my breath, and thank You, God, for preserving my life. Thank You, God, for providing what I need this day, for I do not know if tomorrow will come, nor what it will bring. But if it comes, and if I see it, thank You, dear Father in heaven, that, in the midst of all the wrestling, and despite all my weakness, You will bring me along.
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