Thanksgiving looks a bit different this year. Whether you’re celebrating alone, with a few close family members, over Zoom, or maybe a combination of all three, I’m sure things don’t feel quite the same. I grieve this loss alongside you, and with millions of others. You are not alone.
In my family, and I assume in many of yours, at some point during usual Thanksgiving celebrations, every family member or friend present is invited to share what they are most grateful for on this special holiday. As LifeWay Research recently reported, Americans are most thankful to and for their family, even in this unique year. Of course, I want to assure readers that I too am thankful to and for my family. In this year, I am adding a new item to that standard list. And, this new addition begins with a descent.
What do I mean by descent? Well, if you’re like me, your version of descent might be a lost job, a lost relationship, or a lost graduation. It may be a lost loved one, or the death of a dream, like a small business. This year, we all had plenty to lose. Descent might not just mean the loss itself—it may be sleepless nights, or anxiety-ridden days. It might be a nose-dive straight into self-pity. Descent might be your mental state as a result of these losses.
I am not mature enough in my faith to say plainly and honestly that I am thankful for these losses, or the many sleepless nights that followed. I would love to report that I was a perfect imitation of Job this year, and that I faithfully turned to God after each loss, as Job does, saying:
Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised (Job 1:20-21).
To be completely honest, I did nothing of the sort, though that is a dream I hope to someday realize. As I’ve been preparing my heart for Thanksgiving and the upcoming holiday season, I’m starting to see things in a new light.
I firmly believe that this could be the year that changes everything for you, and for me. And for that opportunity, I am determined to be grateful. In my everyday life as it was, back in The Before Times when I could go to the grocery store without a second thought or visit a friend without a mask, it wasn’t hard to tap into spirituality. When I am being blessed abundantly and obviously, praise simply pours out of me. However, when I am confused, isolated, and feeling lost in the world, I have to flex spiritual muscles that I don’t usually like to think about. This is part of what theologian Ron Rolheiser calls the “Spirituality of Descent.” It is the part of our faith that allows us to reckon with the complexity, the losses, and the uncomfortable reality of a world that eagerly awaits the return of Jesus.
In a world of social distancing, unprecedented political division, and a rich harvest to be grateful for. 2020 has forced us to see our failures, as individuals, as communities, and as a society in all kinds of ways. I’ve realized just how easy it is to get wrapped up in what’s going on in my own life, so much that I forget what is happening in the lives of those around me. As a society, this year has forced us to address the racial issues in our country. I would say both of these examples are incredibly good things that have come out of some very, very dark places. As I’ve continued to cling onto God during this present darkness, I’ve been sowing qualities of obedience, patience, empathy, and more. I eagerly await the day of harvest.
If we don’t grapple with the darkness in ourselves, and in the world around us, how can we ever expect to grow? Spiritual maturity doesn’t just happen. It is carefully forged through trials and faithful obedience. In 2020, we’ve all experienced the challenges of a lifetime. In a time where it feels like our opportunities are limited, we do have the opportunity to deepen our relationship with God as we reckon with the complexities of the world around us, and ourselves. As followers of Christ, we need not be afraid of the dark, because we already follow the Light of the World.
I look forward to one day sharing the story of the year that changed everything for me—the year 2020. In a year where so many doors have been closed, I urge you to accept an open invitation into a deeper relationship with Christ.
This year, just as in every other year, God remains faithful. Even more, God is present in our disappointment and failure. He does not shy away from our fear or doubt, but his perfect love does cast out fear. In dry and barren land, he is living water. How are we supposed to believe this testimony if we don’t experience the desert? Let us join in the Communion of the Saints in our trials and on this Thanksgiving as we express our gratefulness to God. We are not the first generation to go through hardships, whether that be political division or a global pandemic. God was faithful then, and he is faithful now. The Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving were likely a subset of Puritanism and possibly prayed a prayer like this one from The Valley of Vision, which I encourage you to pray as well:
O My God, Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects, my heart admires, adores, loves thee, for my little vessel is as full as it can be, and I would pour out all that fullness before thee in ceaseless flow.
When I think upon and converse with thee ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up, ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed, ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart, crowding into every moment of happiness.
I bless thee for the soul thou hast created, for adorning it, for sanctifying it, though it is fixed in barren soil;
for the body thou hast given me, for preserving its strength and vigour, for providing senses to enjoy delights, for the ease and freedom of my limbs, for hands, eyes, ears that do thy bidding;
for thy royal bounty providing my daily support, for a full table and overflowing cup, for appetite, taste, sweetness, for social joys of relatives and friends, for ability to serve others, for a heart that feels sorrows and necessities, for a mind to care for my fellow-men, for opportunities of spreading happiness around, for loved ones in the joys of heaven, for my own expectation of seeing thee clearly.
I love thee above the powers of language to express, for what thou art to thy creatures. Increase my love, O my God, through time and eternity.