Scroll through your social media rolodexes and I guarantee you will find a friend thankful that the grand jury got it right. Celebrating the defense of justice so good guys can sleep soundly under the blanket of freedom without fear of criminals.
Peek through the shades of an African American household on Thanksgiving, one totally unrelated to the Ferguson incidents, and I wonder if you’d find some dining room tables set with a somber mood, even frustrated, disillusioned that injustice had been done again.
— Or try a different scene.
On Thanksgiving Day, a child will stare longingly up into the waiting arms of a grandparent or brother and ask, “When’s Mommy coming home?” And the response will be she has to miss Thanksgiving this year because she’d lose her job if she didn’t go.
Somewhere else on the same day, a family will exclaim for joy because they beat hundreds of other families to the 60 inch HDTV they wanted that year.
We are a weird race. An ironic one.
Thankful and not thankful.
Hopeful and doomed.
All the opportunity in the world and yet none of it.
Crushing ourselves while setting us free.
We’re like two sports teams who choose our side and then fight bitterly against the opposing one, while not quite remembering why we chose that set of colors over the other in the first place. Maybe it was circumstance. A job offered. A race born into. An advantage or disadvantage perceived. A loyalty assumed. And let the games begin. Hey, rivalry is fun in sports. But shouldn’t life be different?
It’s the irony of polarization in America. In the human race.
And I wonder how much of it is in our own minds.
Americans who are thankful for justice look at the witnesses and evidence of the Ferguson case, which seem to support their opinion, and breathe deeply. Americans who are disillusioned and angry look at personal experience of suspicious glances, lack of benefit of the doubt, and past societal wrongs and think what if that factored in here?
Americans who have Thanksgiving plans to score an elusive deal argue they’re starting new family traditions and employees probably need the time and a half money for working on Thanksgiving. Americans who are relatives of these employees rail with expletive-strewn rants on social media that they won’t get a Thanksgiving this year.
America is screwed up and America is fine.
We pile miles and miles high of our own personal values, baggage, and experience on our opinion of how good and fair the world is.
And that determines our gratefulness.
Perhaps we’re none of us right. Perhaps we’re all a little crazy. And even when we have it right we’ve got it all wrong.
Gladwell writes in David and Goliath that many of the disadvantages we perceive — “to be discriminated against, or cope with a disability, or lose a parent or attend a mediocre school” — are often our greatest advantages through the strength that grows in suffering and the hidden blessings we do not see.
This is exactly how we are in our own lives. We assess our circumstances as unbearable, our lives as bad, writing them off with a judgment that sees 2/3 of a glass of opportunity and scowls at the 2/3 because it isn’t worth our time to drink.
We color everything in our lives through the fogged and distorted glass of our own unrealistic expectations and judgments of the world until we’re convinced the contents are as murky and muddled as our view. We’re a lot like Rod Tidwell in Jerry Maguire, about whom Jerry complains,
“When you get on the field, it’s all about what you didn’t get, who’s to blame, who underthrew the pass, who’s got the contracts you don’t, who’s not giving you love. That is not what inspires people. That is not what inspires people! Shut up, play the game… play it from the heart.”
Are you playing from the heart? Seriously. Or are you focused on every contract American society didn’t give you, every person who wronged you, every cultural group you think is plaguing the world, every business that is neglecting you?
I’m not marginalizing your opinions. I’m telling you how backwards they often are to God. Because he loves us. And he sees this whole disadvantage thing, like Gladwell, differently than we do:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1.2-4
Count it all joy. Count your trials Thanksgiving. Count it Christmas. Cause that’s the best you get. NOT because the world is that bad, but because God is that good to make you perfect and complete, lacking in nothing — when you think you’re lacking everything.
You’ve got a lot to be thankful for. What’d you expect out of life, anyway…a rodeo? Well you gotta get bucked off a few times to make it a good show.
Paul said it right when he flipped the context:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4.8-10)
We don’t just get through our difficulties, they are what makes life in us.
Gladwell notes the tale of excellent lawyers who’d been denied employment at the prestigious New York law firms because they were Jews, who turned instead to the lesser respected area of corporate take-over law. This field exploded ten years later, and they were experts at that kind of law when everyone else was dipping their toes into the waters. They ascended to the top of this burgeoning industry because and only because of the experience their discrimination afforded them.
Those other law firms scrambled to catch up and never fully could.
There are multitudes of hidden blessings in what we complain about over Thanksgiving meals or in absence of them. Perhaps someone will gain the resolve to start their own business only because they miss one too many Thanksgiving dinner, and it’ll change their lives forever.
I am not advocating passivity in the face of perceived adversity. I am advocating pro-activity to not let your negative view of it control you. We humans are biased, biased creatures, finding blemishes in every blessing God airdrops us.
And when we’re at our best, we look at another country and say, “Well thank God at least we’re not them.” But wait a second, who’s to say? My wife’s done mission work in over a dozen countries and she’s found that most of them are happier than us. Far happier. And they give more. How pathetic are we as we look down at them in pity and raise our hands over this year’s cornucopia in thanks that we’re not like that other poor sinner.
Perhaps we’ve misconstrued this idea of blessings and curses. Thankfulness and nothing to be thankful for.
Paul gave a hint about that when he said,
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Philippians 4.11-12)
The secret is to be thankful in all circumstances. He says, “Rejoice,” three times in that chapter. “And again,” in case you didn’t get it stupid, “I say rejoice.”
In case you didn’t get it, America.
Because you didn’t get it.
You have no idea what your blessings look like or what your curses. And you have no ability to judge. Years later you may find most of them were the reverse. Or you may find, as Paul did, how to discover contentment in all of them. How God is still God in all of them.
How he is sovereign. How he is glorified in your life, not through the good things he gives you and absent the bad, but in your attitude of gratefulness to him in everything.
In your thankfulness.
Because the life he’s given you is good. So good.
Whether you live in the posh luxuries of America looking down at your porridge that’s a little too cold or whether you live in a bark hut on some island, sucking nectar out of a shell, because nectar from the tree out back is all you’ll get for Thanksgiving this year. But it’s good.
Perhaps we need to stop sucking our nectar dry and complaining about the size of the straw.
Perhaps we need to look at everything in our lives, not the good stuff, but all the stuff we have no reason to be thankful for — no earthly reason at all — and genuinely, from the heart, thank God for it.
Thank you, God. This is America. We have nothing and everything at the same time to be thankful for and we give you all the glory.
And this holiday season, we’re going to look around our table — or the person with a badge standing next to us behind a cash register — at the sweet nectar of life, suck it dry and say “Thank you, God.”
Because in God’s view, and I promise only with that attitude, it doesn’t get any better than this.