TODAY’S VERSE TO PONDER: The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. – Lamentations 3:25 (NKJV)
Here we are on the eve of Thanksgiving, a day set aside in our culture to celebrate the blessings we have received in the previous year.
Thanksgiving in America is rooted in the earliest days of European settlement here, tracing its origins to 1619 in the Virginia Colony. There, some 38 English settlers held a religious ceremony to commemorate the arrival of their ship, the Margaret, at Charles City on the northern bank of the James River.
Traditionally, the Thanksgiving holiday also has commemorated a harvest celebration held in 1621 by the Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower in 1620 and settled present-day Massachusetts at Plymouth Colony.
Thanksgiving officially became a holiday in the United States in 1863 under a proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln, but the Civil War and its aftermath delayed a widespread nationwide observance of the holiday until the 1870s following post-war Reconstruction. In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt set the date we now observe as the national holiday, the fourth Thursday in November.
Thanksgiving also is an official holiday in Canada and in the Caribbean nations of Grenada and Saint Lucia, which all celebrate in October. The west-African republic of Liberia and remote Norfolk Island in Australia observe Thanksgiving, too. The Norfolk Island celebration is a legacy of American whalers who sailed the region in the 1960s, and festivities include worship services and feasts of island cooking featuring local produce.
Here at home, Thanksgiving celebrations traditionally are equated with dining room tables weighed down with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. In some cases, the menu also offers parades, backyard football games, and passing out in the recliner as the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys play on TV.
Lately, some big-box retailers also have seized on Thanksgiving afternoon as a time to kick off their “Black Friday” sales early to get a jump on the Christmas shopping season. What seems to be missing in so many of these so-called “traditions,” new and old, is the time to pause, reflect and thank God for those aforementioned blessings.
In reality, for so many people, Thanksgiving begins a long season of chaos, stress, conflict and abject loneliness that continues through Christmas and into the new year. Last year, Consumer Reports magazine released a poll gauging just how much people dread what the songs gleefully call “the most wonderful time of the year.” Only three percent of those surveyed said they dread nothing about the holiday season.
Millions of people feel more isolated during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. They are bombarded with idealistic, media-crafted visions of happy couples walking hand-in-hand, joyful families gathered around the Thanksgiving table and the Christmas tree, and a flood of movies, TV shows and songs that portray a Norman Rockwell-like perfection. Such boundless holiday joy seems unattainable to those who are mired in broken relationships with people they love.
For people diagnosed with clinical depression, the holidays can be a particularly dangerous time. These folks certainly need to consider the medical and psychological options available to help them cope with their anguish. There is no shame in acknowledging when you cannot handle the weight of your despair alone and reaching out for care.
Those of us who don’t have physiological and psychological causes for our pain and sorrow during the holidays, but instead are stressed-out by societal consumerism and self-imposed chaos, would do well to remember the words of Lamentations 3:25. There is hope even in pain, sorrow and conflict.
In the poems of Lamentations, traditionally attributed to the prophet Jeremiah, the author is mourning the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Much of the book is sorrowful, but in the third chapter, the author reinforces that even in tragedy, our God is a God of love and mercy.
When we are tossed around in the storms of life, God often can seem a million miles away, and we may feel lonely, isolated and hopeless. But if dig down deep, find our patience, wait for the Lord and cry out to Him, God is faithful in His grace and His mercy and His unwavering love for us.
If there is hope even in the destruction of a culture and its home city, surely God can help you and me get through Thanksgiving dinner with extra-grace-required relatives, the mile-long lines at 4 a.m. on Black Friday, and the seemingly endless commitments to Christmas gatherings at work and home.
Really, the tastiest treat and most perfect gift you can give yourself this holiday season won’t be found in Grandma’s kitchen or at any major retailer. It lives in authentic worship of and communication with our Heavenly Father.
Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!