Thanksgiving in the Midst of Pain

No one should have to bury their twenty-one-year-old daughter. It’s just not right, especially when she was murdered in a senseless act by a broken man who somehow thought shooting up a local bar and grill would do something for his pain. Yesterday, Sara and I attended her funeral just to be with our community in the midst of its pain and to pray. We didn’t know Noel, or any of the other 11 victims of that mass shooting, but a good friend of ours was one of Noel’s best friends, and we wanted to support her and her family.

Our community has been through so much over the last two weeks. The shooting happened on a Wednesday night at 11:20 pm. The next day two wildfires broke out on either side of Thousand Oaks and by 3:00 am on Friday many residents were told to evacuate their homes in advance of the fire. Fortunately, only three people were killed in these fires, but over 1000 homes and businesses burned. In Northern California they are dealing with a fire that destroyed 6,000 buildings, killed almost a hundred, with a thousand more missing. Sara and I have personally escaped unscathed from these twin tragedies, but know many who have not.

And now, it’s Thanksgiving. This holiday always centers around the images of home and family, expressing gratefulness for the bounty of blessings they’ve enjoyed in the last year. But not everyone had a good year. Some had their houses burned or their child murdered.  Others have been through divorce, or cancer, or being laid off from their job. What if you have been abused by someone you love or abandoned by your family? Where do you find your Thanksgiving then?

Pain—and this world can deal it out in some horrible ways—can make us question the goodness and beauty of Creation and the One who made it. But Paul expressed a different point of view in his trials, which were many and vast, from shipwrecks to beatings, he wrote in II Corinthians 4:7-9:

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

No matter what circumstances brought to Paul, he knew of an inner refuge that could carry him through it and in the process seed the ground for greater joys to come. If we look for joy only in our circumstances, our sense of security will rise and fall with capricious tides of life. We’ll then see God as the one who must fix all our circumstances to make us happy, or be disappointed with him when he doesn’t. But if our pain can remind us to look deeper, to find a God who is bigger than the most atrocious things life can deal out to us, then we can find joy and thanksgiving no matter what goes on around us.

My heroes of the Old Testament include Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, three children of Israel living in the Babylonian exile. They were threatened with being burned alive if they wouldn’t bow down to a golden idol that King Nebuchadnezzar had built. They refused. They were given another chance to comply and refused again, uncertain how things would turn out:

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Their trust in God was not attached to the outcome of their circumstances. I know wonderful people whose homes were spared in the fires, and wonderful people whose homes were burned right across the street or next door to those who were spared. Our temporal blessings, even survival, is not proof of God’s favor or his judgment. These children of Israel could trust God whether or not he delivered them from their persecution and pain. There is always something more than what is right in front of us. Tuning into that reality gives us cause for thanksgiving no matter how bleak circumstances might appear.

So where do we find gratefulness in times of crisis? Here’s where I find it:

I am grateful that he is always with me, even if my feelings try to tell me otherwise.

I am grateful he has given me life, breath, and subsistence to get through this day.

I am thankful that I have a Father who loves me more than anyone on this planet ever has or ever will.

I am thankful there’s nothing I can do to make him love me one bit less or one bit more than he already does.

I am thankful that every breath I take is in his hands.

I am grateful that Jesus has a way to navigate me through anything life can throw at me, including when others treat me unfairly.

I am grateful that all my hopes and dreams don’t have to be satisfied on this side of eternity.

I am grateful that nothing in this world, or the actions of any person, can keep me from the life and freedom he has for me.

I am grateful that Jesus will get the last word on every one and everything in this world. He hasn’t yet, but he will.

I am grateful he is bigger than any injustice, calamity, lie, or failure.

I am grateful that there’s always a way for me to encourage and be helpful to others who are going through difficult times.

I am grateful for friendships that love through anything, and don’t assume the worst of motives in moments of pain.

And, I am grateful that beauty and joy will once again rise from the ashes of my calamities and lead me to peace.

So, whether you find yourself on this Thanksgiving in abundant circumstances or in painful ones, there are real reasons to be thankful.  And, finding our way to a place of thankfulness is often the first step to finding our way beyond the pain and into his reality of life and peace.

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13 Comments
  1. Judith Dalessandro November 21, 2018 at 8:38 am - Reply

    Thank you for posting this. I needed to hear this today. I am a special needs mom to a child with autism. Some days are really overwhelming. And no one understands what that’s like, unless they too are a special needs parent to a child with autism (and even then, it’s their own experience, and each parent is going to have a different experience with it). Sometimes we just need to be reminded that ultimately, God is in control and is still on the Throne. Thank you.

    • Wayne Jacobsen November 21, 2018 at 8:42 am - Reply

      You’re welcome, Judith. Some days of regular parenting are overwhelming, I can’t imagine what parents like you deal with every day. When I meet people like you I’m always in awe of the love and courage they draw from to help their child make it in the world. I pray for your strength today, Judith, that Jesus in a very tangible way would wrap his arms around you and pour into your heart everything you need, and that you would hear that whisper in your heart, “Well done, my sweet, sweet daughter!”

  2. Christine McKinley November 21, 2018 at 8:53 am - Reply

    I love and appreciate you so much for your love for Jesus and your obedience and willingness to share these insights. You may never know how much I needed this TODAY, and for that I thank Jesus and rejoice that yes! His love is incredible and amazing and ALWAYS with us. It’s like you are the compass who points me back to Him exactly when I need it most. Thank you for allowing Holy Spirit to direct you and use you like this. Happy & Blessed Thanksgiving to you and your precious loved ones. Hallelujah Jesus!

  3. Janet House November 21, 2018 at 9:33 am - Reply

    When I was young I truly thought that if I did everything “right” then surely I would be exempt from life’s tradgedies. A bit like a vaccination! However, it didn’t quite pan out that way. I have had my taste of loss, false accusations, family sadnesses, Autism ++ (my heart goes out to Judith) early deaths, etc, but now I am thankful because I was not crushed, or drowned or overwhelmed or destroyed. Now I absolutely know He was with me throughout it all. Isaiah, 43 v2. “I will be with you WHEN all these things happen”. Not ‘IF’, but WHEN!
    Wayne, thank you for putting it so well. I was blessed by your writing today. We did the Bible study with our group this morning then I came home and read your article. So timely. Bless you!

  4. Beth November 21, 2018 at 2:26 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this post. After a couple of rough years I am finding myself in a new place. My couple of rough years were not nearly as painful as the loss of an adult daughter or the destruction of my home, but it was a soul searching pain which brought me to a place of thanksgiving for the resulting self-reflection and my deepening walk with Jesus. I am thankful for the hope in Christ I can see for the first time in a long time. Yes, there is much to be thankful for this year. Again, thank you for such timely words!

  5. Barry Schoen November 21, 2018 at 2:30 pm - Reply

    Amen, and AMEN Wayne! Thanks so much for sharing. These trials can break us or bring us closer to learning to trust Father more and to realize such events are not proof of his favor or judgment…despite what the world may tell us. As I rode the wild roller coaster of job lay off, temporary hire and then a long term position I was amazed at God’s provision. My natural state is to worry, but His timing each step of the way was providential. Truly thankful.

  6. Jumoke Fola Alade November 21, 2018 at 2:46 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for this, Wayne. I love how you have situated Meshach, Shedrach and Abednego ordeal in this narrated. Many preachers use this to preach about courage…I love the way you use it to share on the sovereignty of God that these guys actually were ready to die in. Fabulous!

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  8. Victoria November 22, 2018 at 8:41 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing this…I passed it along with our Thanksgiving prayers to our friend whose husband (who also was my husbands best friend from childhood to present) took his life 2 months ago due to unbearable pain without any meds to help and hundreds of doctor appts over 9 months…she replied:
    “Victoria, thank you so much- your words are like a healing balm on our hurting hearts. God is so faithful to teach us how to wrestle well- between our feelings (that need a voice or they rob us of being human) & our faith (that must be our loudest voice & our guide or our souls will never heal as He intended).”
    Profound words.
    Your message of thankfulness today spurred my prayers of thanksgiving and honor for her and her husbands life to her today…thank you Wayne!!!

    Victoria

    • Wayne Jacobsen November 22, 2018 at 9:36 am - Reply

      I am deeply touched this morning, Victoria. Thanks for sharing this. A moment of weakness in a man’s life shouldn’t define him. I hope their grief finds great joy in memories of what he mean to them and what he added to all their lives.

      • Victoria November 22, 2018 at 11:27 am - Reply

        Amen and thank you!
        Father God’s honor for him has been abundantly shown to his loved ones that remain here through so many ways and she heard, “he was running to Me not from me” also affirming his identity is not changed by one moment of stepping towards the enemy’s trap in utter vulnerability and illness.
        May His Light and Glory continue to shine far brighter and greater than darkness in tragedies.
        Prayers for “oil of joy for mourning and garment of praise for spirit of heaviness”

  9. Ian November 23, 2018 at 12:44 am - Reply

    Thank you Wayne for your wise words. I was reading this morning that the word gratitude (Thanksgiving) has the same Latin root as the word for freedom. It went on to say ‘so if they are connected etymologically why not spiritually’. It makes sense to me that cultivating a thankful heart in all circumstances will set us free in so many good ways. This is also apparently supported by science that shows that gratitude primes the brain for positive emotions. So thank you for kicking us off on a freeing journey of discovery. Blessings to all your family.

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