It’s Thanksgiving Day in The US. The tradition of Thanksgiving started early in our nation’s history as a way for us to set aside one day to be grateful to God for the blessings we receive through the year. Of course, this is a common theme throughout human history when a society wakes up from the destruction of selfishness to the absolute necessity of gratitude.
This year’s Thanksgiving may look a little different than other years because of the pandemic and our societal chaos that still rages around us.
But what should not and cannot be different is the NEED for gratitude for what we DO have, and not a despondent overfocus on what we DON’T have. That temptation to negativity is a sure path to deeper chaos, division, and bitterness. We Orthodox are called to a more mature and sober gratitude so that we escape the shallow pouting of an immature selfishness.
But how do we do that? How do we avoid falling into the pit of despond and wallowing in our own disappointments and darkness? The path “THROUGH” this trying time have everything to do with the 3 characteristics of a serious disciple of Jesus Christ!
Look at our Gospel Lesson in Luke 18:31-34:
At that time, Jesus, taking the twelve, said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written of the Son of man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon; they will scourge him and kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” But they understood none of these things; this saying was hid from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
On this Thanksgiving Day here in the US, what does it take to face moments like this with gratitude and resolve? How do we prepare ourselves to go through these moments well? The key is in this passage. The Lord tells the disciples the truth about what is coming in His life and in their lives as well. The Lord is going to be “shamefully treated” and He is going to be executed. But that’s not the end of His story: He will also rise from the dead on the third day. And yet, His disciples didn’t get it!
To “get” hard news like this requires three characteristics of the serious disciple: First, you have to be open to hear. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken the truth in love to someone and they simply didn’t get it. They weren’t ready to hear what I had to say. To be honest, this has happened to me as well when I wasn’t ready to hear what I needed to hear. Next, you have to trust the one telling you the truth. And this trust has to have reached the level where the very difficult truths being shared can be understood. That takes love, humility, and a necessary amount of time with the Other to have built that kind of trusting relationship. And finally, you have to have perspective that this is a moment, not eternity. The Lord’s sufferings and death were not the end of the story, but the disciples missed the temporariness of the hard moment and also missed the joy of the promise of resurrection. They couldn’t grasp the momentary suffering BECAUSE they didn’t get the resurrection!
So today, on this Thanksgiving Day, as the gather with friends and family and eat entirely too much, slump down on that comfy couch to watch a football game, and laugh and celebrate with all our kin, let’s grasp that is truly necessary to develop a sufficiently mature gratefulness that can transform our lives. This life of Gratitude will only be deep, mature, and life changing when I go beyond the temporary moments of challenge to see the eternal consequences of faithfulness. It is when I get stuck in sorrow that I lose the ability to be grateful. I lose the ability to hear Him, trust Him, and see with Him beyond the moment of my immediate pain. Become able to be Grateful, even in dark times, and you will be Orthodox on Purpose.
P.S. We give You thanks, Christ our God, for these earthly gifts. Do not deprive us of Your Heavenly Kingdom. But as You came among Your disciples giving them Your peace, so now also come among us and save us. Amen