I have a confession. Until about three years ago, I didn’t like Thanksgiving. As in, dreaded it. Couldn’t wait for it to be done. Over. Past.
While you pick your chin up off the floor, scratch your head and wonder, “How could a guy not like Thanksgiving?” let me address a few of the inevitable concerns that follow such a declaration about one of the United States’ most significant holidays:
- Football is one of my favorite things.
- I am an American, and have been for as long as I can remember.
- Why, yes, I am a Foursquare pastor who loves Jesus.
- And no, I don’t kick my miniature dachshunds just for entertainment.
Why did I have such a hard time with Thanksgiving?
Every year, around November 1, an almost tangible dark cloud settled over me, often remaining until December was in sight. My attitude was negative, my forecast, gloomy. The dread of enduring a day that was supposed to be about remembering God’s faithfulness, enjoying the people and things we’re thankful for, and making memories was overwhelming.
My wife, Joni, whom I affectionately call TheBean, even tried to lift my spirits by allowing the Thanksgiving menu to include my favorite food—BBQ beef ribs—and by exempting me from any turkey consumption. But I digress …
Then Julia came to visit. Julia (pronounced YOO-leee-ahhhh!) is a young woman in her early 20s from Achern, a small town in southwestern Germany. I’d met her, her family and her pastor on one of the many trips I had taken to Germany to visit our sister church in Frankfurt and other Foursquare churches.
Julia had always wanted to visit the U.S. and experience American culture up close and personal by staying in someone’s home. I talked with TheBean about it, and we made the necessary arrangements for Julia to come stay with us for six months, starting in September 2008.
Psalm 100:4-5 filled my heart: “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him; bless His name! For the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations” (ESV).
Although Julia spoke English, our Western American dialect was totally foreign to her. She offered puzzled expressions while trying to figure out the meaning, significance and nuances of such Americanisms as “Dude!” “Awesome!” and “Sweet!” We loved the new perspective Julia brought us as we got to see ourselves (and our lives) through her eyes.
Sometime in October, Julia started asking questions about Thanksgiving. Evidently, she’d been told by one of her friends about this “Significant American Holiday,” and she wanted to make sure she was ready for it.
I tried giving her the standard, elementary school take on the origins of Thanksgiving, complete with tall tales about the Pilgrims and Squanto. That wasn’t enough for her; she wanted to know more. What? Why? How? When? Julia’s questions came in a deluge.
About a week before Thanksgiving, I finally told her: “Julia, I don’t like Thanksgiving, and I can’t wait for it to be over and done.”
She gave me a bewildered look.
“So, it’s about family, being together, thankfulness to God, and good food, and you don’t like it? It seems awesome,” she said.
“I know it does. But not for me.”
In my desperation, I cried out to the Lord. This was something I had done many times before, but this particular time, there was a response: “Look at what Scripture says about thanksgiving.”
So I did. I broke out my Bible software and searched, researched and studied “thanksgiving,” “giving thanks,” “thankfulness” and all possible permutations of the word. I pored over the plethora of verses.
In particular, Psalm 100:4-5 filled my heart: “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him; bless His name! For the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations” (ESV).
As I meditated on this passage, I felt a “peeling away,” almost as though my soul was experiencing a “power-washing,” like when do-it-yourself-ers prepare their homes for painting. The layers that were exposed contained elements of thoughts, feelings and emotions I readily recognized: Frustration. Anger. Fear. Anxiety. Ungratefulness. Negativity. Unforgiveness. Unbelief. Bitterness. Grief.
I don’t know where they all came from, but there they were. I can remember numbly saying: “Well, God, I’m a mess. A big one. Please help me.”
Then 1 Peter 5:5-7 came to mind: “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.”
I took it as a holy nudge and knelt down as a sign of humility. I asked the Lord to search my heart, clean it and heal me. Words poured from my mouth almost faster than I could mentally grasp them; words of confession, repentance, sorrow, declaration and petition for His grace.
Thanksgiving Day arrived, complete with lots of food, family, fun, laughter and, of course, football. Before dinner, we gathered to pray a blessing, and each of us took a second to share something that we were thankful for. I participated. And meant it.
When it came to Julia, she asked if she could pray a prayer of thanks. She prayed, first in English (she even said “awesome”!), then in German. As she flowed into her mother tongue, tears of gratefulness poured down her cheeks. I didn’t understand all of the words she spoke, but I firmly grasped the spirit of thanksgiving that filled the room.
I wept. Tangible thanks filled my soul with life, and with the oil of joy sealed up the cracks in my soul with a healing salve.
And all I could think of was how thankful I was. And still am.
Thank you, YOO-leee-ahhhh! And thank you, Jesus.
This article was originally posted in 2011.