Strength for the journey: Ideas and thoughts from our bishop
"Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will joy in the God of my salvation." -Habakkuk 3:17-18
By BISHOP ROBERT E. HAYES JR.
The great American statesman Benjamin Franklin wrote about his memories as a little boy. He remembered his father taking the daily meal out of the large barrel that sat next to the wooden table where the family always ate. Following a cherished routine, Ben Franklin's dad would put the food on the table and bless the meal, giving thanks to God for the sustenance for that day. He recalled asking him on one occasion: "Father, why don't you say grace over the whole barrel so we won't have to wait so long to eat?"
I can't imagine Ben Franklin's father being amused by that question, but it certainly amuses me when I think of what Thanksgiving has become for most of us. In reality, we do exactly what young Franklin had in mind when we wait until the fourth Thursday in November to pronounce our one blessing to God, although throughout the year we have been benefactors of God's daily blessings. We squeeze into a few short hours our gratitude for an entire year, while the other 364 days go by without a hint of true thanksgiving. And even on Thanksgiving Day, we are so preoccupied with friends, family, football and food that we often neglect to really honor the significance of that day.
What would happen if God decided to withhold His blessings and give them to us only one day of the year? I think you get my point.
As I write to you today, mindful of the great tragedies and staggering losses in our nation and around the world this year, I share a few words that may help us to understand what real thanksgiving is all about.
When everything is gone
Out of the tiny Old Testament book of Habakkuk, a hymn of faith is given that helps me put everything in perspective. It is a hymn that sings a melody of loss; it utters words of total devastation, but its refrain is an affirmation of joy and thanksgiving.
The prophet says that "although the fig tree may not blossom, and no fruit be in the vines, and the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat, and the flock be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stall," he still would rejoice and give thanks to God. What a witness! What a definition of real thanksgiving!
Habakkuk reminds us that his feelings of gratitude to God are not controlled by the events around him but by faith in God's ability to give him strength. When everything is gone, and nothing in life makes sense anymore, he will continue to praise God and remember God's great mercies.
Somehow, we have to arrive at that place where Habakkuk dwells. It is so easy to lift our prayers of gratitude when everything is going well, but when hard times and difficult problems invade our lives, it is not easy to give thanks. The calamities and hardships of life cannot be left outside the door this Thanksgiving. Somehow, we must learn to allow those trying moments to sit alongside the blessings at the table, and we must learn to give thanks to God for all the circumstances of life.
No one knew this better than (my hero) the Apostle Paul. Open the New Testament to any one of the letters of Paul, and you will not read long before you discover an expression of thankfulness. Again and again, the apostle interrupts the development of one of his great themes and breaks forth into praise and thanksgiving.
Paul is continually thanking God for the gift of the Gospel, for his co-workers in the service of the Word, for the fruits of the Spirit in his converts, and even for the opposition and suffering he has encountered in the furtherance of his message to the Gentiles.
In the midst of trials and sorrows that would break the spirits of weaker followers, Paul writes: "Give thanks in all circumstances... give thanks always for all things unto God." Somehow, Paul mastered the secret of giving thanks in all circumstances, and only when we are able to do as he did will we know the meaning of real thanksgiving.
Where do I start?
You, too, can master the secret of continual thanks: Simply put, with the gift of gratitude. A thankful outlook on the world is the best way to face life. In the face of hardship and misfortune, gratitude helps us to keep perspective. A sense of gratitude is the most direct road to an awareness of God.
When our gratitude has its origin in Christ-in what Christ has done and does for us daily-we begin to understand how Paul could give thanks in all circumstances. The presence of Christ and the peace of Christ in the human heart are realities quite independent of outward events.
The high-water mark of our faith is to be able to sing a song of thanksgiving every day, no matter what.
May the blessings of God be with you and your family this Thanksgiving.