Hospitality Hints is a monthly feature on our blog with some helpful tips for being hospitable in everyday life. Our hints may involve inviting people over, but not always! Most of the time, they will be about having a posture of hospitality—welcoming others into our lives.
Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. I know Christmas usually gets all the love, but I can’t quit the fourth Thursday of November. It doesn’t have the mounting pressure of fulfilling wish lists or guessing what my family members hope to open on Christmas morning. Thanksgiving is usually simple—food, family, friends, and fun (and since I’m a Texan, I’ll add one more “f”—football).
Not much has changed over the years in how we observe the national holiday. We have our traditions: turkey, ham, corn souffle, my mother’s cornbread dressing passed down from her mother, homemade gravy, jellied cranberry sauce (don’t hate), and a relish tray to die for. Family and sometimes a friend who needs to feel like family gather around the table. Before a dish is served, each of us shares at least one thing for which we’re thankful. Gratitude circles around the table until it’s back to my husband. He gives me the cue, and I start in on the Doxology. Our voices fill the air with the 17th century chorus:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above ye heavenly host
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
Some years it’s easier to sing it than others. Tables, arms, and wombs full. All is well and right in the world. But then there are the years when we have to remind ourselves of what the Lord commands us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: give thanks in everything.
Give thanks—when there’s an empty seat at the table.
Give thanks—when you come to dinner alone again this year.
Give thanks—when your workplace feels like a war zone.
Give thanks—when you’ve been misunderstood and misrepresented.
Give thanks—when you lost the job.
Give thanks—when your husband succumbs to a massive seizure.
Give thanks—when the doctor utters “large mass.”
Let me be clear—there is a difference between in everything and for everything. A life lost, a dream deferred, a weary heart, a job loss, a seizure, and cancer are not in and of themselves worthy to receive our gratitude. They are facts of life lived on this side of eternity. Might they one day reveal blessing as unanswered prayers? Maybe. But we’re not told to be thankful for them but rather in them.
Our family learned the difference on Thanksgiving Day 2009. My favorite holiday isn’t just an annual reminder to give thanks; it’s the anniversary of one of the most sobering days of my life. The day our family heard the words “large mass.” The day our seats were empty at the table because we were huddled in an emergency room. The day my strong, able-bodied husband shook and seized with such force I wasn’t sure he would ever stop.
Those moments and memories haunted me for weeks. I couldn’t find the strength to thank God for them, but I could thank God in them. I could thank Him for being the God who sustains. I could thank Him for the peace that passed understanding—a tangible yet unexplainable Presence that accompanied us to the emergency room, the neurosurgeon’s office, the OR, the waiting rooms, the oncology radiologist, and the neuro-oncologist. I could thank Him for Jesus. If it weren’t for Jesus, there would be a chasm between us. My sin would stand in the way. If it weren’t for Jesus, I would be outside the steadfast love of God. If it weren’t for Jesus, I wouldn’t know the heart of a loving Father who disciplines those He loves. If it weren’t for Jesus, I wouldn’t know the help the Spirit gives in my weakest moments. If it weren’t for Jesus, I’d have no hope for a new heaven, a new earth, or a new body.
So, the day that comes around every year to remind me to give thanks doesn’t have to be the picture of perfection. In fact, it could very well be the stuff of nightmares. But giving thanks doesn’t have to wait until everything’s all right, nor does it come in response to the hard. It rises up in the midst of it—in everything—as a song of praise to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Hear more from Lauren on thanksgiving and gratitude in all seasons and God’s steadfast love in her book, Steadfast Love.
Lauren Chandler is a wife and mother of three. Her husband, Matt Chandler, serves as the lead teaching pastor at The Village Church in Dallas, Texas. Lauren is passionate about writing, music and leading worship, not only at The Village Church but also for groups across the country. The Lord has taken Matt and Lauren on a challenging journey, beginning with the November 2009 discovery of a malignant brain tumor in Matt. The Lord has been infinitely merciful to provide peace and comfort in uncertainty, and joy in times of victory and healing. Lauren and her family have been given a deeper trust in clinging to the Lord and his cross during this appointed season of valleys and storms.