The last few weeks I’ve been preparing for the holidays. Mentally, that is.
Just this week my state registered a 39% positivity rate for COVID-19. Illness in my community is so widespread that the Department of Health developed an entirely new category of measurement.
As our cases surged, my heart sank. A “critically high” spread meant I would be home for the holidays. It meant more confinement. Less gathering.
Maybe you can relate. Across the country, cities are mandating that families forgo the festivities and guests this season. For most of us, this holiday promises to be different. Complex. Confusing and discouraging.
This year, there will be no visitors to dawn on our doorstep. No familiar faces of family and friends. Less trimmings and treats will adorn our table. No sleepovers, coffee runs and Black Friday shopping on busy streets.
Though we knew this holiday would look different, it can still make us blue all the same.
We miss people. We miss normal. We miss consistency, peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Feeling the void of what once was naturally makes us sad and disheartened.
But it can also make us profoundly grateful.
Ironically, I find that the lack of something makes me appreciate it all the more. When difficulty strikes, I realize how much I take for granted. And it makes me even more grateful for what I’ve still got.
In this pandemic year, the reality of death makes me grateful for life. Separation reminds me how much I value community. Not being able to see family leaves me cherishing every moment we have together. Less hours at work makes me grateful that I get to work at all. Loss, though painful, motivates me to treasure what remains.
If we’re honest, this year alone has made us more grateful for medicine, doctors, teachers, beauticians, family, friends, dining out, local businesses and normal life. More than ever before, I’m grateful for the grocery workers, supply chain drivers and my mailman. And that curbside pickup never tasted so good.
The truth is that hardship has a tendency to enhance thankfulness, not reduce it.
This year, the events leading us to the table may be difficult ones. But gratitude isn’t rooted in good circumstances. Thankfulness doesn’t depend on my mood.
It seems only fitting that this year – a pandemic year – is the year our country is celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage. Those first Americans were no strangers to hardship. More than half of those who survived the Atlantic died anchored in the harbor from the elements, malnutrition and disease. Out of 102 passengers, only 51 of them made it to spring.
Yet at the end of that tragic year, after all that they had endured, what did they do? They dedicated a three-day festival of thanksgiving to celebrate the goodness and faithfulness of God.
The events that led them to the table were trying ones too but the outcome of their hardship was celebration and praise. They allowed their bad experiences to point them to the One who was good. They found hope – not in their situation – but in God. Their thankfulness was in response to all God had done in the midst of their hardship.
They had survived. And God had proven Himself faithful.
Thankfulness is not rooted in good circumstances but in the goodness of God.
Even when circumstances look dim, we have a good God who is with us and working on our behalf. Life is good because God is in it. His character doesn’t change even when our circumstances do. He remains faithful, loving, forgiving and good (2 Tim 2:13, 1 John 4:19, Ps 103:12, Ps 34:8). In our darkest days, God still loves and provides.
The day may bring trouble but it is sure to produce blessings as well. God’s good hand will always be at work in both the good and troubled times. Will we see it? Will we notice the way He cares and provides?
God is still generously giving all around us. I see His hand at work in a sunny day, a full belly, a warm bed, a text from a friend, the birth of a child, a changing season, a world that spins and a heart that still beats. Jesus offers peace when I feel uncertain. Truth when I feel confused. Rest when I am weary. Strength when I feel weak. Acceptance when I fail.
The best part about God’s goodness is that I don’t have to earn His blessings. He gives freely and generously without finding fault (James 1:5). I can receive Him and the many aspects of His grace with a grateful heart. His goodness toward me is what leads to trust, adoration and praise.
Though our home will be empty this season, our hearts can be full. Remembering the goodness of God in the land of the living is what keeps us from despair (Ps 27:13-14). I can face any difficulty that comes my way because I have God. When I remember all the wonderful benefits of being in a personal relationship with Him, it renews my spirit of thanksgiving (Ps 103:1). And no government, person, disease or circumstance can take that away from me.
On the days you are feeling blue, remember God and all of His benefits. Allow your bad experiences to point you to the One who is good. God will provide. He will help you survive these difficult times. And He will prove Himself faithful.