The Paradox of Thanksgiving

by Stephen W. Smith

Thanksgiving and actually every holiday, stirs the soul and brings up the dark as well as the light.

I asked Gwen what single word would sum up the year 2011, without any hesitation, she said, “Pain!” In that single word few companions or acquaintances could ever realize the hidden pain she has carried. Her back pain. The surgery. The tumor. The 4 month long recuperation that will morph to 12 months before she’s done and actually “better.”

Do you have one word that might describe 2011? Think of one and don’t be too shallow, smaltzy or simple! Find a word that you might offer as a word to give insight to your very soul.

Here’s what true for me in this past year that I need to keep in mind as I look for my word:

In 2011:

I had to re-write my entire book that I spent two years writing.
I had to do this in three months.
I had to cancel plans for a summer of fun for a long, hard journey into my heart to try–again to understand what the abundant life was really about.
I have to realize that in the empty nest, we find ourselves alone more than we really want to be and deeply miss our kids.
I have to realize that the realization of a dream long fought for and hard-pressed to realize has ushered me into a new feeling that goes something like this: “Now, what?”
I am coming to realize that my closest friends are really never going to live in one place and for any extended period of time.
That the finishing of the Inn–the big red barn is really only the sobering beginning of ministry using it.

Life is expensive. We gain in life–but the truth is really this–we also lose in life. Abundance in life is not about amassing everything that is good. But abundance is coming to the understanding that we are merely clay and life is not up to us and never was.

So, while packing our car to drive up to the retreat to enjoy the thanksgiving feast with a few friends who have become for us family, we are sobered by the paradox of thanksgiving. To celebrate thanksgiving is to relinquish the feeling of simply being happy to being profoundly aware that without Jesus Christ, life would not be worth it.

In every paradox is the lens through with to see truth as it really is and that this truth is really the only thing that will set us free in the end.

Here’s to all who have lost their love in death this past year who will need to be thankful for a life now alone.
Here’s to all who have lost their job and have no future for a new one who will need to be thankful at the prospect of a meager year ahead.
Here’s to all who have received bad news from the doctor and will need to be thankful.
Here’s to politicians that continue to over promise and under deliver in this great nation of ours that seems so broken this year!
Here’s to all have been betrayed by a friend, stabbed in the back by someone you never felt could or would do it and be thankful.
Here’s to all who have lost so much only to find that they have everything in Jesus Christ.
Here’s to all who will walk with a limp but who will still walk.
Here’s to all who have sought refuge in the church only to feel even more alone.
Here’s to all who have tried to live more simply but only to discover the complexities of the soul’s longings.
Here’s to all who seek the serenity of the Quiet One only to discover the shouting within and around us.

Paradox is sometimes the very best word one can use to discuss our life which goes sometimes like this: “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times….we had everything before us. We had nothing before us. It was the spring of our hope. It is the winter of our discontent. Yes, we live here in the middle of these realities and to deny that we do is a symptom of our shallow lives and empty hearts. If the Psalmist could express both love and fear; worship and defeat; victory with lament in his poems, why then, can’t we?

I”m mindful of you this Thanksgiving. I’m so very thankful for your honest questions. Your determination to not give up or give in. I’m grateful to soldiers who will eat alone so that we may feast together.

I am most thankful for David, Rebekah who are my team in life and work now. I am thankful for Paul, Chad and Tiffiny who make our life, retreat and work better than what it would be if I were alone.

I am profoundly thankful for my true companion in life who seeks what I want; who longs for what I long for; who will not settle for anything less of what the paradox of thanksgiving stirs.

My word for 2011 is paradox. Some good, some bad. Some hard. Some easy. Some wonderful. Some awful. Some brutal. Some beautiful.

Yes, paradox.

Blessings at Thanksgiving!

OK. Now in the “reply” box, type in your one word–perhaps with some elaboration and let us compare notes on the journey towards having grateful hearts!