When my youngest son hopped on an airplane for his first foray into the friendly skies, it didn’t take him long to shake off any fear he may have brought down the tarmac with him. He loved it, his favorite part being when the plane would bank steeply to one side. “It’s fun when the universe is sideways,” he said as the plane tilted dangerously askew. I disagreed in more ways than one. The universe is sideways, it seems, but it is not very enjoyable. It is terrifying.
The fear, uncertainty, wars and rumors of wars, loss of homes, jobs, and economic insecurity have all but stolen the spirit of Thanksgiving from many a heart. When your mortgage payment is ninety days late; when you have to sit down with your child to say you can no longer afford the tuition that is keeping her at school; when you wonder if you will have enough gas money just to get you to work next week, it’s hard to be thankful. When you can no longer stomach the ring of your cell phone because of all the bill collectors, when your retirement plan has lost forty, fifty, sixty percent of its value – your personal universe is sideways and it is not fun. So it is a daunting task for many this Thanksgiving to sit down to turkey, if there is even a turkey to eat, and be able to say “thank you.” An alternative prayer of the Psalmist seems more appropriate: “How long O Lord, will you forget about me?”
Some time ago my sweet wife was having a very bad day. Anyone who knows my wife knows that she is as steady as the rising sun. Her mood and outlook on life is constantly cheerful. But on this day, it was chilly and dark. Things at work were difficult. There were family issues – in hers and mine. There was more month than money. A co-worker was being inflexible and obnoxious. The house was a wreck. Our children were defying her, and I was ignoring her. She was reduced to tears. I went in to where she was crying, I put my arms around her, and I said, “But honey, I love you.”
In my mind I was dismounting from my white steed, my shining armor polished to a dazzling sheen, there to save the day with my strong arms, calming presence, and soothing words. But I was not received as the saving Messiah. Cindy recoiled, pushed me away and said, “I know. But that doesn’t fix anything.” And she was right. My love for her didn’t shut up bawling children. It didn’t magically put more money in our checking account. It didn’t turn the dunce she worked with into Mother Teresa. It didn’t even take the fish sticks off the table.
But what we ultimately agreed upon, after I got over the shock of being so rebuffed, is that while love changes nothing about our circumstances, love changes us. It gives us the strength to face what is out there, even if what is out there is sideways. Love sustains us, encourages us; it gives us what we really need: The ability to keep going, even with tears on our cheeks. That’s what God’s love does. It keeps going and keeps us going. It endures forever, and for that, we are forever grateful. We are not alone. We are not abandoned. We are not forgotten. God is with us. We are loved.
If given this choice, which would you take: To have all your problems solved, all your struggles worked out, and all your troubles flushed away; or, would you choose to be deeply, unconditionally, and madly loved? I think I know your answer. And that answer is the reason for our gratitude, even in a world turned upside down. Love produces thanksgiving – not because we will have everything we want – but because we have the one thing we were made for, the one thing we need. His love endures forever; let us give thanks.