To put this blog in context, following is something I shared at our Thanksgiving Eve service at church. If you're going through tough times, I pray this encourages you.
The first Thanksgiving celebration is traditionally considered to be the Pilgrims' feast in 1621. They celebrated their first harvest in the New World with THREE DAYS of feasting! Consider this giving of thanks for God's provision against the backdrop of what led to this point in their history. After years of religious persecution in Europe wherein they fled from country to country, they escaped to the New World and arrived at the beginning of winter in 1620. Most of the Pilgrims spent that winter on the Mayflower. Only half of the Pilgrims who embarked from Europe disembarked in March, 1621 onto the soil of the New World. The other half had died. And still the survivors gave thanks.
The next Thanksgiving celebration occurred is 1623. Once again, the Pilgrims faced dire circumstances as drought threatened their crops. Their leader declared a 14 day fast that ended with rain and a harvest celebration. Once again, thanksgiving sprung from hardship. When we choose to give thanks in tough times, we join an auspicious lineage of "tough times thanksgivers" from the Pilgrims to Paul but more on him later.
A brief summary of my recent history will make clear why I decided to talk about giving thanks for tough times. In December of 2012, when John and I were anticipating the birth of our first child, John departed for a six month deployment to Afghanistan. He was not slated to return until after Miriam's due date yet we hoped he would somehow make it back in time. We were living in St. Louis where I also worked full-time. Though we didn't have any family in the area, I remained in St. Louis during John's deployment, working at a job that became increasingly chaotic and stressful. In April, my brother died due to a car accident. John was able to redeploy and join me in Connecticut to grieve Tim's earthly death with my family. Soon after our return to St. Louis, when I was eight months pregnant, the board of my organization fired me. Miriam was born a couple weeks later and we moved to Montana a couple months after that. I arrived here in Montana a wreck, grieving the earthly departure of one of my best friends, still angry at my former employer, and dealing with a serious case of the baby blues.
So why give thanks for any of that? Well, first, I stopped asking why. I will never have a satisfactory answer to that question, this side of heaven. Next, I started grabbing ahold of God's promises. In Isaiah 41:13, God says, "For I am the LORD your God Who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, 'Do not fear; I will help you.'" I couldn't reach out my hand; instead, God took hold of my hand. This is what He does for those who are His or yet to be His. When I had absolutely nothing to offer God but my brokenness, I experienced the depths of His great love and grace as He reminded me of this promise that He would help me.
I give thanks for the tough times because they softened my heart. They made me weak and caused me to embrace Ephesians 6:10 to "be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might." When Paul wrote that verse, he was most likely in chains, unable to be strong in his own might. If Paul chose to embrace God's strength amidst prison, I wanted to do the same amidst my tough times. My despair and destitution caused me to recognize my need for God and to see that my attempts at self-help were vain.
The tough times also forced me to choose a worldly or a godly perspective. There was no middle road. I could wallow in self pity or embrace the biblical view of life that Jesus tells us about in John 16:33. "In this world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." We ought not be surprised by tribulation. Jesus told us it would come. We may live relatively charmed lives; I know I did up until 2012 and still do by many standards. But we should not be alarmed or shocked when tough times snap us out of a charmed reality. And when we face our tough times, Jesus commands cheer; He says it in the imperative tense. Another way to translate "good cheer" is "good courage." How can we have courage? Jesus tells us it's because He has overcome this world. The tough times we face on this earth are not the end of the story. Eternity with the Overcomer is the end.
I give thanks for the tough times because God used my brokenness to teach me about Himself. He deepened our relationship and increased my trust in Him. Since He brought me through that, He'll be faithful to lead me through future valleys. God led me to understand and pray Hebrews 13:21. "May He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ."