A Belated Thanksgiving Meditation

Even though I am a stumbling disciple of Jesus Christ, the inclination to offer praise for His blessings when my circumstance is a net positive, or even tolerable, is strong. But how does one do it when things turn very bad? How, in all sincerity, do I overlook the ample evidence that the life, as I have known it, is coming undone? And whether it is our material resources that have gone fallow or the inexorable decline of a beloved’s health, the subsequent prayer of thanksgiving can ring hollow and leave a bitter taste on our lips. To many on the outside, it appears rote and contrived: “Thank you Lord for this cancer,” or “Bless you for our impending bankruptcy.” How does one lift his hands into the sky, like Job, and offer praise for the calamities that seemingly beset us on every side?

I certainly wish I knew. C.S. Lewis, perhaps the greatest Christian apologist of the 20th Century, and producer of some of the greatest books uplifting our faith, was driven nearly mad from the loss of his wife Joy from cancer. For all his intellectual knowledge and internalized reasoning, he was left mired in the ashes with her two young sons and a notebook in which he scrawled his agonies: bleak words that would eventually become A Grief Observed. In chronicling these darkest of days, he questioned not the existence, but the very character of God. Having been given the love of his life at a mature age, only to have her snatched away into the opaque abode of eternity, her death rocked his foundation of faith as no other loss could. Indeed, his suffering caused him to cry out to that silent celestial door that appeared at that moment bolted shut: “So this is what you are really like?”

Loving is a dangerous sacrificial act because it reveals the nakedness of our need and desire. If we love the World, we will one day lose it. If we love a man or woman, or even a child, will not the same occur when all flesh eventually runs its cruel course? “We love to know that we are not alone,” and yet, we are ultimately left alone to all but the mercies of God. There is no getting around this, and only Jesus Himself has run the gauntlet and emerged at the other end victorious, if not unscathed.

It is such a victory that He has in mind for us; yet, it requires no less a sacrifice. In shedding our reliance on the things of this world – our riches and even our loves – we are borne up by His power through that gauntlet of despair that afflicts every life. I wish it were not so, but since I cannot see beyond the end of my street, let alone the rim of the world, I must disengage from my pain and anxiety and trust in Him whom I have no power to cajole or manipulate. In God’s economy, it is only when we come to the end of ourselves that something beautiful can begin. Only then can terrified eyes open and focus on the larger picture. In illuminating this truth, Paul tells us:

Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. --2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NASB)

How do I thank God in my affliction? This will only come when He dwells within you and begins that mysterious work. And would that this could be accomplished in pleasure. But it seems that man is constructed in such a way that pain, rather than plenitude, is the only efficient vehicle for our schooling. For it is in our sufferings that we begin to listen and allow Him to draw near. Left to our own devices, we would vector out into eternity and continue running from the only source of true lasting joy in the universe. But God has made us for His own good pleasure, and there will be no end in His pursuit to have and to perfect us as His own valued possession, until that time when our ultimate rejection finally renders His efforts for naught.

This Thanksgiving was bleak. My wife has been slowly succumbing to the ravages of Stage 4 endometrial cancer, and I have been waiting for the miracle to come. It has not, and it may not. Yet, we will continue to wait upon His revealing mercies as the ripples of this slow-motion horror radiate out and back to us: perhaps to some unexpected good. But as Mr. Lewis has said: “The pain I have now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.” I must remind myself continually that the strength will come, just as it always has. And so, if I cannot offer thanksgiving for today’s burden with a clear conscience, I know I can offer it for joyous days past and for that one day when I will fully understand the reasons for these sleepless nights and endless tears. For then, I will see through that mirror plainly: in the same manner that He has watched lovingly over me and my own -- all the blessed days of my life.

Glenn Fairman writes from Highland, Ca. He can be contacted at arete5000@dslextreme.com and followed at www.stubbornthings.org.