It’s that time of year again in the United States when many gather around Thanksgiving Day dinner tables laden with food and surrounded by relatives and friends.
But many also don’t. You know who you are. Your parents may be gone, siblings celebrating with in-laws, and friends with their own families. Or perhaps your spouse is gone, your children are with your ex or grown doing their own thing, and everyone else assuming you’re with someone else. Or perhaps there’s not enough money to travel or your job doesn’t allow enough time off. The reasons are endless why you may be alone on Thanksgiving Day.
No matter our circumstances the very purpose of this holiday — being thankful — often takes backseat to everything else. To counteract this lack of thankfulness, we often hear challenges to make lists of all we’re thankful for. I’ve done this, but the list can be endless and after awhile it feels a little pointless. Where do I start and stop? And then there’s the problem that not everything I list as blessings sparks the thankfulness the exercise is intended to invoke.
This year I made a challenge to myself to name my top three blessings, and I’d like to challenge you to do the same. These three should supersede and perhaps even encompass every other blessing you have. So think about this for a bit before writing them down, and don’t just name the first three that come to mind.
Then this week as you’re either busily preparing gobs of food or packing your suitcase, or perhaps busily combating feelings of isolation and loneliness, be mindful of these three blessings and spend time thinking about the amazing difference they make in your life. Perhaps write them on your bathroom mirror, on sticky notes here and there, or whatever you do to remind yourself of important things. Share them with others if you’d like. But most of all keep them close to your heart and thank God for them!
I’ll share my top three to help you get started. If they resonate with you and you want to adopt them as yours, please feel free. But make sure you also own them and that they truly are your top three.
1. God’s Love
At the core of everything God does is love, because He IS love. Without it I wouldn’t have anything else, and especially not human love from friends and family, since all love originates with Him. Without His love Jesus would not have come to earth live among us, die for our sins, and gain victory over death so we can live forever.
His love has sustained me through the heartache from betrayal by others, the passing of people I love, and the absence of loved ones because of distance or busyness. His love is always there. It’s often been in the absence of human love that I have most experienced God’s love for me in personal ways. I wouldn’t wanted to have missed those times for anything!
I recently heard a sermon by David Denison in which he said that faith doesn’t come from intellectual understanding, but rather from experiencing God. I believe this to be true. God can’t be proved. We don’t have the capability of scientifically measuring Him or testing for His existence. It’s when we experience His involvement in our lives in a personal way that we know not only that He is, but that He loves us deeply!
When my mother was on her death bed I sang to her one day when she was feeling restless. It seemed to calm her as she laid with her eyes closed. When I started singing the lullaby she had made up and sang to us when we were little, her eyes flew open and she smiled at me. I treasure that memory!
Several days later as she became unresponsive I started hearing a familiar tune almost as though it were coming over the hospital’s sound system. It puzzled me why I kept hearing this tune over and over. It was familiar, but I wasn’t recognizing it. Then, as I was walking down the hallway hours before she died dreading her imminent death, my heart cried out, “Who will be my mother now?” Immediately I heard God say to me, “I will,” and just as immediately I recognized the tune I was hearing incessantly — it was my mother’s lullaby! God was singing it to me now, and it wasn’t coming over the sound system, it was coming from Him. In that moment I knew (experienced) in the depth of my being how much God loves me, and knew that though my mother was going to where I could no longer hear her words of love, affirmation and encouragement, He wasn’t!
2. God’s Grace
The more I learn about grace the more I stand in humble joyful gratefulness, and the more I realize I don’t and can’t understand it fully. We rattle off the definition so glibly — free and unmerited favor. But we fail to grasp the depth of what that means. It means there is nothing — absolutely nothing — we can do to gain salvation or God’s favor, because Jesus has already done it all! His work on the cross is complete. Any attempts on our part to somehow sweeten the deal are, as the Bible says, like filthy rags. In other words, not only are our efforts worthless but they are offensive to Almighty God to whom we try to present them. He’s already given us Jesus’ pure robe of righteousness, and trying to add filthy rags to that outfit is just ludicrous.
God’s job is to not only save us but to transform and sanctify us, too. We have but one part — not necessarily an easy one, but just one — and that is to surrender fully and completely to Him, over and over and over again, each and every moment.
I am so grateful for God’s grace because it means all my inadequate attempts to live the right life and be the right person are covered over and superseded by Jesus’ righteousness. This doesn’t mean I can do whatever I want and purposefully sin. It means that it is Jesus who does a transformative work in me as I allow Him to take over every aspect of my life.
Coming to know God’s grace more accurately — that He does the work while I surrender to Him — has given me much freedom of heart and mind as I am neither paralyzed by the belief I need to get everything absolutely right, nor am I passive in living out what He has taught us. I am actively and gratefully submitting to Him and His work in and through me.
I am deeply grateful that God created me for a reason and that He designed me to be uniquely equipped for that purpose. He determined — among many other things — when in history I would be born, what the geographical location would be, who would be my parents and siblings, what my personality would be like, all the details of my appearance, and yes, even what my marital status would be and for how long. All these aspects precisely and strategically designed by God so I can fulfill the special purpose He has for me. The same is true for you and every person who has ever lived and will live.
I have mentioned before that I believe loneliness doesn’t always come from lack of human interaction. Many times it comes from lacking a sense of purpose. The more I understand and live out God’s purpose for me, the fewer times of loneliness I experience. In my younger adult years I often felt varying levels of depression, especially as I watched my friends and siblings marry, have children, and settle into the life I had always thought I’d have. I thought I was missing out on the best of human experiences and couldn’t understand why God would deprive me of this ultimate earthly fulfillment.
Today, I realize all the faulty thinking and belief systems that led me to that conclusion. I now live a happy life living out my purpose and realizing that marriage and children would have hindered me in what God created me to do. I don’t have the blueprint for the rest of my life; it’s imprinted on God’s heart and that’s the only place it needs to be. But that also means I don’t know what He has for me in the future and I realize it may be very different from today. I know whatever it is, it is also lovingly planned by Him as the best possible way to continue living out the fulfilling purpose He’s given me. While living this earthly will always have its struggles, the depression I used to experience has been replaced by a deep sense of destiny, identity, and meaning!
One of my Facebook friends often makes detailed posts about his day or weekend with just the right amount of humor thrown in, and each he time concludes by writing, “I am indeed a blessed man!”
That’s how I want to conclude this blog post. When I look at these three top blessings God has given me and all they encompass, how can I say anything else but,
“I am indeed incredibly blessed!”
How about you? What are your top three blessings? Once you identify them, is it a natural and almost spontaneous response to also say, “I am indeed incredibly blessed”?