There is a story about a certain preacher who was known for his uplifting prayers. He always found something for which to be grateful. One Sunday morning the weather was so cold, dark and damp that one member thought, “I’ll bet the preacher won’t be able to think of anything for which to thank God about today.” To his surprise, however, the preacher began by praying, “Dear God, we thank you that the weather is not always like this.”
You and I have so much for which to be thankful. Sometimes it takes a holiday like Thanksgiving to remind us of that fact. Look back at your life and count your blessings. How many people have helped you over the years? How many acts of kindness have you been the recipient of? How many times has something surprisingly good come into your life when you least expected it, and maybe not even deserved it?
In 1955, Bob Hope was approached about starring in a movie called The Seven Little Foys. The movie was based on the life of vaudeville star Eddie Foy. When Foy’s wife died unexpectedly, he took his seven children on the road with him and incorporated them into the act. The kids were awful, but people came to see them, and they became very popular on the vaudeville circuit.
Bob Hope wanted the great actor James Cagney to play a role in the movie. But Cagney was a major star who had won an Oscar for his role in Yankee Doodle Dandy. He was famous. Surely he would never agree to a small role in a movie that wasn’t assured of turning a profit. Hope was pleasantly surprised when Cagney insisted on playing the role…for free.
Here’s the story: when James Cagney was just getting started on Broadway, Eddie Foy had often taken him home for a meal. Those free meals had kept James Cagney from starving. He wanted to play a part in the movie in order to say thank you to the man who had helped him.
Yes, it’s a wonderful thing to count your blessings and to know that behind every success you have had in life, there are people who have helped you along the way. That doesn’t mean life is perfect.
For some people in this church, this past year has been difficult. We have lost loved ones. We have suffered heartaches and heartbreaks. Maybe we are struggling with sickness or disease or disability, and our body aches, at times more than we can bear. Maybe we have lost our job or even our marriage. Life is not easy, even for the best of us.
I once was pastor to a couple who were involved in a serious auto accident. The wife was in the hospital for weeks, the husband for months. When he was finally released, the husband was never his old self again, having suffered a brain injury in the accident. The week before Thanksgiving I went to their home to bring them communion. When I had finished administering the sacrament, I asked if they planned to celebrate Thanksgiving.
The wife replied that, of course, they would celebrate Thanksgiving, for they still had so much to be thankful for-a dear son, a nice home, loving friends, a caring church family, and a God who was with them through all the joys and pains of life.
They are not alone, are they? Among us are those who have been battered in one way or another over the years-disappointments at work, at home, in the quietness of one’s own heart. Shallow Christians give thanks only when the sun shines, but many of us are weathered Christians. Life has not always treated us gently, but even in the midst of the tempest, we give thanks.
In fact, some of us have discovered that the hard moments of life have been when God has been the most real to us.
I remember a widow devastated by the death of her husband, who died suddenly of a massive heart attack as he was driving home from work. He was only a year away from retirement, and they had been looking forward to enjoying life together. The widow felt God had cheated her of any remaining joy in life. A friend persuaded her to volunteer at her church’s soup kitchen, where she helped prepare and serve meals.
Eventually she got to know many of the guests at the kitchen. She talked to them, shared with them and learned about their struggles just to survive on the streets. Her involvement in the soup kitchen led to her becoming an advocate for the homeless and hungry in the city.
One Sunday she gave her testimony at church. She said, “I used to feel sorry for myself, not realizing how blessed I was never to have to worry about food and shelter throughout my entire life. I came from a loving family and had a devoted husband for many years. I have visited many parts of the world and enjoyed a quality of life that few people on this planet have known. Yes, my husband tragically died all too young, but the real tragedy in life, I have discovered, is that people are allowed to live hungry and homeless in this city. And as long as God gives me strength, I want to do something about that.”
It’s amazing how often in life a low moment becomes a “grow moment.” We thought it was the worse thing that could happen to us. We thought we would die, but we didn’t. We hung in there. We fought the good fight and today we look back at what was a turning point in our life-a turning point that made us what we are today. It doesn’t always happen, of course.
But it is more apt to happen if, along the way, we hold on to our faith that God is good-all the time. While we may be tempted to grow bitter, our faith in God can make us better. Faith helps us get through the flood waters until our feet touch solid ground again.
Consider Jesus’ words: “Look at the birds of the air. They do not sow, neither do they gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” (Matthew 6:26).
Does that mean that birds never have to worry about anything? Not at all! I don’t know if birds have the mental capacity to worry or not. After all, it takes a reasonable amount of intelligence to worry. But if birds could worry, they would have a great deal to worry about-jet engines, oil slicks, plate glass windows, not to mention predators.
The point of Jesus’ teaching is that God has created a bountiful world that is sufficient to the needs of all. And God is involved in that world. God sees even the smallest sparrow fall from the sky. And we are the crown jewel of God’s creation. Jesus assures us that God will meet our needs. We are never beyond God’s love and God’s care.
This Thanksgiving keep in mind: God loves you, God cares for you, and God will never abandon you, no matter what tough times come your way. God is with you, today, tomorrow and always. You never walk alone, because you always walk with God. That’s the good news of our Christian faith.
Some anonymous author has written:
- If you woke up this morning and were able to hear the birds sing, use your vocal cords to utter human sounds, walk to the breakfast table on two good legs and read the newspaper with two good eyes…you are more blessed than millions of those who could not do these things.
- If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation…you are ahead of 500 million people in the world.
- If you can attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture or death…you are more blessed than three billion people in the world.
- If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep…you are richer than 75 per cent of this world’s people.
- If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish some place…you are among the top 8 per cent of the world’s wealthy.
- If you are over thirty and either of your parents is still alive, you are very rare. Over a billion people are orphans by then.
- If you hold up your head with a smile on your face and are truly thankful…you are blessed because the majority can, but most do not.
Giving thanks reminds us of how blessed we are. This is not to say that you and I do not have problems. We do, but for most of us, our blessings far outweigh our burdens.
This Thanksgiving, be thankful for the gift of life and for the gift of new life in Jesus. I am thankful for Jesus who taught us that we have a Heavenly Father who is mindful of our every need and who will see us through every dark hour. In his name we give thanks.
The Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi is the rector at St. James Westminster Anglican Church in London, Ont.