The Blessing of Deprivation

Photo by M.Markus

“On your mark, get set, go!”

For most people, those aren’t exactly the words that come to mind on Thanksgiving Day. But for me, they are synonymous with the holiday. To me, presents are to Christmas what Pumpkin Pie and President Lincoln are to Thanksgiving.

See, every Thanksgiving of my childhood—and even a few years thereafter—my brother and I, or any child caught in our home as the case might be, would race to see who could create the longest list of things to be thankful for. We wracked our brains—careful to conceal our writing—and listed everything we could imagine. We went through piles of paper and numerous writing instruments. Usually the contest was timed, and usually our hands were sore for hours afterward. We didn’t just put “the President.” We put every President we could remember—and even Vice Presidents where possible. And we never wrote “mashed potatoes and gravy.” No. Those could count for two food choices if we wrote them on separate lines.

This game was serious business in our house. And it wasn’t all bad. We spent days leading up to the festivities thinking about these lists, which meant we were thinking about things to be thankful for and not just how much pie we would eat.

As I think back over the fun of that annual game, I realize now that there was one item we never included on our lists. I’m sure we never even came close to including it because—from all outward appearances—it isn’t something to be celebrated. We wrote names of family members and days of the week—

But we never wrote “trials.”

As I think about it now, “trials” would have opened a whole new category that could have easily given me the edge in our game. After all, trials include everything from bad days and ruined friendships to deep valleys that cause us to come face-to-face with what we really believe about God—and, of course, everything in between. The types of difficulties within a category like “trials” are endless.

So are our attitudes in response to these trials, I’ve learned.

Though I never considered it as a child, I’ve spent considerable time thinking about it as an adult. As I’ve come to learn first-hand, the pruning process of trials is painful, and most generally leaves us feeling vulnerable and weak. If not weak, perhaps we face anger or disappointment or denial instead.

But are we often thankful for trials? Or is that an archaic, unnatural response that sounds good in a Sunday School lesson and ends there?

As women devoted to living out God’s Word in our lives, must we really be thankful for the hard things or simply “willing to endure” them with whatever grim optimism we can muster?

God wants us to be thankful.

James 1:2-3 says, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.”

What clearer command could there be on Thanksgiving Day than the command to count something all joy? “Count it all joy” is, in essence, what Thanksgiving is about—isn’t it?—rejoicing in what God has given us—making James 1:2-3 a true “Thanksgiving verse.” We thank the Lord for family, protection, nourishment, and friends, but what about the specific thing we are commanded in James to be thankful for?

James very deliberately tells us to “count it all joy” because being thankful for trials isn’t our natural response. Nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to count “the easy things” all joy because that is expected. It isn’t the natural response to be thankful for the difficult things or for the things that don’t go our way.

This is Christian maturity and something I never could have understood during our little game, but this Thanksgiving, as I look back over the previous year and the various life lessons God has brought into my life in the form of disappointments and pain, I choose to be thankful for trials. Why? Trials are the clearest reminder that God is still interested in pruning me and making me more like His Son. What could be better than that?

Later in James 1:17, the author tells us that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” Is it any coincidence that a verse about “perfect gifts” is included in a passage about trials? I don’t think so. I may need to re-visit the idea of writing down the things God has given me on this Thanksgiving Day.

I have a new category to examine and a lot to be thankful for.

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