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A word in favor of thanks

By Charles Qualls

I am not normally one inclined to automatically be an apologist when things defy explanation. But then again, mine is not to explain nor to justify the year 2020. This year has been what it has been. Nothing I say will change that, nor more importantly alter the trajectory of things for the days ahead.

Years ago now, the previous publisher invited me to write a weekly column here. At first, my assignment was to contribute a reflection on that week’s Lectionary scripture passage, or on whatever passage I had preached that Sunday. By far, most weeks that is still exactly what I do.

Soon, however, he granted me the additional latitude to speak to whatever I felt needed addressing. Culturally or spiritually, he trusted my judgment to speak into the living of our days. This past week, Thanksgiving rolled around as it does annually. Even in a weird year like 2020, surely there must have been something to give thanks for.

Although the exact origins of the Thanksgiving holiday have varying traditions across the country, its intent seems universal. Long ago, those in the greeting card and retail business sectors began to propagate our awareness of it. Thanksgiving at its best, though, calls us to be intentional about kindling and expressing our gratefulness.

I can still recall my dad’s humble attempts to observe the holiday. I say “humble” because his usual expression was not exactly the stuff of movie scene magic. Normally just as we sat down at the table, in his own quiet way our patriarch would say something like, “I’m just thankful that everyone is here, and that we’re all healthy.” Someone would ask the Blessing, and then we dug in. That was it.

This year, though, I have heard from many who might have found even that brief and general ceremony too difficult to muster. Throw in that some actually followed health guidelines which cautioned about large family gatherings. For so many, nothing was normal. Some have suffered personal losses or job interruptions. Others are still reeling from established relationships that have been damaged by squabbles about cultural, electoral or pandemic opinions. 2020 seems to have been marked by more than a normal share of pain. Thankfulness, for some, was in short supply.

Here is where some would simply want me to proclaim that Jesus Christ is still Lord, and say that is enough reason for us to rejoice in any year. At its heart, this message should ring true. Others, though, would insist on an expanded plate of meatier options. Let me see what I can do.

If any of us woke up on Thanksgiving morning having slept in a safe, warm and dry place then we are wealthy on a worldwide scale. That is the beginning of perspective. If we went to bed having been well fed, and celebrated the Thanksgiving ritual with a full table, then we are rich. If you have someone who loves you, someone who has forgiven you and someone who includes you as an important part of their life, you have much for which to be thankful.

If you still have work that fulfills and challenges you, and that provides a livable wage, you might return thanks for a pretty good life. Not everyone does in this pandemic-related recession. If you have a loving family, born or chosen, your life is not impoverished. Not everyone does, no matter the year. If your health is relatively good, even despite any poor nutrition or exercise choices you or I may make, that is a lot to be able to say.

If you are suffering hardship, but still have supportive people walking on that journey with you, you have a richness that not all do. If you have something that gives you hope, or something that gives your life purpose, you might consider how important those motivators are. Giving thanks should have mattered this week.

The world renowned preacher Fred Craddock was asked one day, “What is your greatest hope for what your children turn out to be?” He thought for a moment as the audience waited. Then he said, “Grateful. I hope my children turn out to be grateful. For if they have that, they will make it come whatever else may.” I think Dr. Craddock was onto something there. We may have needed to work a little harder to kindle our sense of gratitude in the week just past. But I pray that we did find some thanks to offer.

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is the pastor of Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.