Ready or not, we are beginning Thanksgiving week — a time traditionally set aside to express our gratitude to God by gathering for feasts and fellowship with family and friends. But feasts and fellowship are being discouraged this year to guard against the spread of the coronavirus pandemic — a modern-day plague of biblical proportions.
In the United States, over 255,000 people have died from COVID-19 at this writing, and more than 12 million people have been stricken by the coronavirus that causes the disease. Around the world, over 58 million people have been infected and more than 1.37 million people have died.
Many small businesses, especially restaurants, have already gone out of business or are on the verge of collapse. Millions of people are unemployed and desperately short of cash. Many schools are shuttered and providing only online learning. Sporting events have been canceled, senior citizens are staying at home almost all the time, and family vacations remain a distant fantasy.
Looking forward to the holiday trip home to see Grandma and Grandpa? Forget about it.
Our own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with many governors and government officials, discourages travel and extended get-togethers.
So what’s there to be thankful for now? Woe is seemingly everywhere these days. Only a fool or delusional optimist would give thanks, right?
Rarely has an “attitude of gratitude” been more critical or appropriate than right now.
It’s become glib and fashionable to lament the year 2020, suggesting that our current circumstances couldn’t get much worse. I’ve certainly been guilty of such narrow-minded thinking from time to time, but I’m actually thankful we’re living in 2020 and not 100 years ago.
In 1918 and 1919, the Spanish flu infected about 500 million people worldwide (about a third of the world’s population at the time), killing at least 50 million globally and about 675,000 in the U.S., the CDC reports, far exceeding the horrific toll of our current pandemic.
We certainly need to be thankful that with coronavirus vaccines likely to be approved by federal authorities by the end of the year for distribution in the U.S. and around the world, there is virtually no chance that our current pandemic will claim as many lives as the 1918-1919 flu.
I was fortunate to grow up in a home with parents who regularly accentuated and emphasized the positive, giving thanks to God for the food on our table and the clothes on our backs.
Jim and Joan Batura were very grateful people because they were products of the Great Depression, the rationing of World War II, the polio epidemic of 1950 and the 1968 flu pandemic, which debilitated my father.
My parents went to bed hungry some nights, patched ragged clothes, and saw some of their friends paralyzed or others depart for wars and never come back. My mom even watched a sister die young.
As a result, to quote Winston Churchill, they were not “made of sugar candy.”
We grew up being reminded that many people were far worse off than we were, and that God sometimes gives us more than we can handle — because otherwise, we would rely more on ourselves than on Him.
In some ways, though, looking at the current difficulties, I’m reminded of the Old Testament figure Job. Despite living an honest and upright life, he suddenly lost his family, along with his health and his wealth.
His response to it all was instructive.
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart,” Job called out to God. “The Lord gave and has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Might we struggle to give thanks when tough times come because we hold too tightly to the things that were gifts in the first place?
My wife and I have three children in heaven and three here on Earth. Not a day goes by when we don’t think of those we lost, looking forward to meeting them on the other side.
While we grieve their loss, we remain grateful for the journey the Lord has brought us on. Because had we not walked that difficult road, we’d almost surely have never adopted the three sons we have today.
The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.
The secret to a grateful heart is to see everything as a gift and nothing as an entitlement. Because, as the old saying goes, when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change.
God is using this pandemic in your life and mine in ways we cannot see and for purposes not yet known.
I love the end of the book of Job, because it contains guidance for how to handle life’s most difficult trials. It says: “After Job prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before.”
So give thanks in the midst of your challenges, but also think of yourself and your troubles less often — and take time to pray for those around you.