One of my great family Thanksgiving traditions is going to a church member’s log cabin up in the hills of rural Alabama. Several of us that are living too far away from our biological families gather there every year to enjoy an old fashion Thanksgiving fellowship. Right before we eat, we form a large circle around the entire living area of the cabin, join hands and share what we are thankful for this year. As the food gets cold, we hear words of gratitude for wives and children and parents and jobs and health and salvation and the church and so on. But even after the prayer there always seems be something deeper, more profound left unstated.
It wasn’t until I went through my greatest personal tragedy (up to this point), the breakup of my family due to divorce, that I came to experience the most precious of all gifts, the Lord’s presence. I was facing incredible uncertainty about my career path, insecurity about finances, and the loss of my most precious dream, an intact family. It was in the face of this suffering and loss that Psalm 124 spoke to my void – “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side. . .” No matter the difficulty that came, this thought carried me through.
Suffering thrusts us into a level of spiritual maturity like warp speed sends the U.S.S. Enterprise into new, unexplored galaxies. And for this we should be most grateful. We should be grateful to God for the opportunity to grow and mature.
Imagine thanking God for the cancer. Not it’s cure but the cancer itself…for unemployment, for the breakup of a relationship, the loss of a parent, or deteriorating health. These are all things that thrust us into His arms with greater dependency.
Last November, I was in Union Beach, NJ helping families clean up after the devastation of Super Storm Sandy. I entered into person after person’s unique story of pain, suffering, and loss. But I couldn’t help but pray quietly, thanking God for the blessing of significance. He was giving these victims a window into their fragileness and therefore what is truly significant. As Jesus would warn us in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth . . . but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . . For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I prayed under my breath and in my private moments that this suffering, as well as all sufferings, would loosen our grip on this world, so that we could grasp more tightly to Him.
Habakkuk takes us through the faith journey of suffering as he queries God as to why He is allowing all this devastation to come to God’s people. In it, three kinds of faith are outlined. First, Conditional Faith, an “If, then” faith that says if you, God, do this for me, then I will be loyal, devoted, generous, and grateful to you. The second is a Thankful Faith, that says, “Because of”. Because God has done this, I will devote myself to Him loyally out of gratitude. But the third is a quantum leap from both of these, the one Habakkuk finally concludes in Habakkuk 3:17, 18, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” Habakkuk concludes An Unconditional Faith, an “even though” kind of faith. A faith that allows loss to cause us to cling even tighter to God.
So this Thanksgiving as we go around our circle sharing our blessings, let’s include the traumas that God has allowed that have drawn us ever nearer and more dependent upon Him. So that we may learn to loosen our stranglehold grip on this world in order to cling to Him more securely.