Giving thanks in 2019 – what for?
by Marion Van Driel
For some, Thanksgiving is just another day off, a long weekend to go hunting, to finish up urgent tasks before the rainy season sets in for the long haul, or just to recoup for the next round of life in the fast lane. For others, it is a time to gather and truly give thanks. Sadly, many have either forgotten or never really considered where their thanks should be directed. Their thanks is sent floating into an empty void.
For the Christian, giving thanks must be more than a sentimental tradition spent with family and friends, gathering around a food-laden table. Yes, we have an abundance of resources for which to thank God, the giver of all good gifts. Yes, we still live in a country where religious freedom is valued and reading the Bible is not forbidden. Yes, we are still free to express our thoughts, although Christian values are increasingly mocked and denigrated. Uh-oh! Here I go. We have … but. Have you ever given a gift to someone who opened it and said, “Thanks. That’s nice, but…”?
Thanksgiving is being thankful for God’s provision of good gifts. Period. You may, like me, often find yourself looking at both local and global issues, adding caveats to your thanks and wondering what, indeed, we really still have to give thanks for, besides the obvious that the kids around the table mention…food, shelter, Jesus. And aren’t those kids right? Isn’t that enough? Yes. Still, we find ourselves looking anxiously outside our own four walls and wondering.
To counter our anxiety about where the world in going in a hand basket, I’ve asked a few people how they see God at work in the world. Here are their stories, for which we, too, give thanks.
“On the days when the global refugee crisis feels most overwhelming, God is showing me that it is sometimes the smallest acts of hope, and moments of joy in which Christ’s light shines the brightest. I see this light in the Syrian-Canadian teenager who still can’t believe she gets to go to school every day. ‘I can’t express how excited I am,’ she says, while putting on a cap and gown for her high school graduation photos; ‘I’ve been dreaming of this day for years!’ And then she tells me again of her hope to continue her schooling and become a nurse. I see it in the Mexican-Canadian woman who can, after many terrifying and difficult years, stand in front of a crowd and reflect on her difficult journey and say, ‘I’m finally feeling more like myself again – like who God made me to be.’ I see it when this same woman later sits with me as we hold the hands of a woman from Guatemala as she weeps and we pray together for comfort and healing. And I see it in the Iranian-Canadian woman who feels God’s presence and promise for her in each word of Scripture she reads. Those who have seen the greatest darkness are often the ones calling us most hopefully into God’s light, and I learn from them every day.” (Dena Nicolai, Chaplain and Refugee Support Mobilizer, Christian Reformed Church in North America)
“Addictions usually control someone’s life, in that it takes and consumes all that someone thinks about. For someone who is homeless and dealing with addiction, their whole life can sometimes be about maintaining that addiction. Often, in their pursuit of addiction, a person will wreck their relationships with family and friends. Here at UGM, God works within us and within those with addictions [whom] we are serving, for everyone’s betterment. When we are serving God through someone with addiction, we can understand that it isn’t their desire to be in their situation, but addictions and other things get in the way. For our guests with addiction, God is often the catalyst for change and the cross is what can re-ignite their own self-worth. It’s the story of hope that Christ brings that has an impact on the guests we serve and on ourselves. One of our guests, who’s been working with us closely, has come to find this building a place of safety and hope. When he experiences this he comes to hear the things we talk about, such as love and forgiveness, which starts to make sense. He experiences hope and that is what we believe God is bringing to UGM; hope.” (Demetrius, Case Manager, UGM)
“Federal government policies related to immigrants and refugees remain relatively open and welcoming. All Christians can support such openness. In the Old Testament alone, God’s people are enjoined thirty-six times to welcome, respect and love ‘the strangers and sojourners among you’. Jesus breaks down all divisions. This Thanksgiving let us celebrate Canada’s hospitality as a practical manifestation of God’s boundless grace.” (Nick Loenen, former politician).
“Sometimes Thanksgiving can serve up some unsettling contrasts between the abundance and poverty that coexist in our families, churches, and neighbourhoods. This Thanksgiving, we can thank God for Christians and churches who, throughout history, have opted to stand alongside the poor and oppressed to change not only individual lives, but systems, whether through refugee sponsorship, reconciliation efforts with Indigenous people, or supporting policies that shrink the gap between those who have, and those who have not. We can give thanks for the opportunities each of us has to bring about God’s vision of justice and peace for all.” (Natalie Appleyard, Socio-economic Policy Analyst for Citizens for Public Justice)
We live in a country of abundant resources, including food and shelter, which we can share with neighbours, local and global. We are able to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8). We are richly blessed!