Thanksgiving and Lament
by Rev. Dustin Bartlett
“ For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” – Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4
Thanksgiving has got to be one of my favorite holidays: the food, the football, the family, the turkey and stuffing, and the stuffing of myself with the aforementioned turkey. Plus, Thanksgiving is a national holiday but is not, strictly speaking, a church holiday – which means that, unlike Christmas and Easter, I get the day off!
Of course, even though Thanksgiving is not a traditional church holiday (read Holy Day), it is celebrated by a lot of churches in this country because Thanksgiving’s message – that we should actively practice being thankful for what we have – is one that people of just about any faith, and no faith at all, can get behind as a good spiritual practice. Psychologists tell us that being thankful for what we have, rather than focusing on what we don’t, is good for our mental health. We just feel better when we have an attitude of gratitude in our hearts.
That’s why there are pastors all over America writing Thanksgiving articles like this one for local papers and church newsletters, reminding people how important it is to be thankful. They’ll quote Bible verses like Psalm 107:8-9 and Colossians 3:17 and Psalm 107:1 and say, “Look. See. Being thankful is Biblical.” I, too, will tell you that you should use this holiday season to count your blessings and to focus on all you have to be thankful for.
Unless you can’t.
It turns out, when your biggest problem is figuring out whether you’re supposed to tithe 10% of your pre-tax or post-tax income, focusing on the positive and being thankful for what you have is easy. On the other hand, when you’ve lost your job and are facing homelessness, or you’re only 30 years old and have been diagnosed with cancer, or a change in political leadership means that your marriage might soon be illegal, focusing on the positive can feel impossible. It might actually be impossible.
It turns out, that’s Biblical, too. Check out Psalm 22. Or Psalm 44. Read the book of Job. You’re allowed to lament. You’re allowed to be pissed off. You’re allowed to be pissed off at God. You’re allowed to feel like everything is falling apart. Throughout history, God’s people have had to deal with times of feeling like God had abandoned them. You are not the first, and you won’t be the last to wrestle with God.
So count your blessings and be grateful. Make that effort, no matter your circumstances. But if you find that a feeling of gratitude just won’t come, then go ahead and be angry. Whatever you do with God, be authentic. After all, pretending to be something you’re not with God is as pointless as lying to yourself.
Over the years, I’ve gone through times in my own life where words of thanksgiving and feelings of joy just wouldn’t come. I have used language in my prayers that I would never use in front of my Grandma. Through the ups and downs, the thanksgiving and the laments, I never stopped praying. And that seems to have made all the difference.