Pastor John: We let our guilt kill our gratitude!

October 9, 2015 | by: Renette de Beer | 0 comments

Posted in: Ministry News Tags: thanksgiving, harvest, guilt

During my second year of study at Calvin College, since I wasn’t able to make it home for Thanksgiving, a very kind couple invited me and a few other students over to their house for Thanksgiving Dinner. I was elated. The thought of going without a Thanksgiving Dinner just seemed wrong, like I would be failing to perform some essential duty of what it means to be a living, breathing person in North America.

So, on Thursday (American Thanksgiving is always on a Thursday), I hitched a ride with a friend to the church that this couple attended, and allowed the fullness of Thanksgiving to wash over me – trumpets, organ, Psalm 100, “Let All Things Now Living,” “Now Thank We All Our God” – all of it. It was epic, and it felt right, like this was the appropriate time of the year for giving thanks. Pumpkins and apple cider and the changing colours of the leaves and people getting all sentimental about Christmas coming up.

So by the time I got to this couple’s house and we were about to sit down to the magnificent feast that had been prepared, I was in a thanksgiving mood. God had blessed me with a good year, had blessed the earth to produce a good harvest, had blessed the farmers and truck drivers and grocery store owners and butchers and bakers and candlestick makers to create everything that sat before us on the table. It seemed right to enjoy the fruit of the earth on this day of Thanksgiving.

As we sat down to eat, we each went around the table and said one thing we were thankful for, and then the husband offered a prayer for the meal. “Gracious God, we thank you for …” creation and friends and family and food and freedom and everything good. It was a very good prayer, thanking God for all the good things that we had been blessed with this day. And then, right at the close of the prayer, he said:

“And Lord, as we sit down to enjoy this feast that you have laid before us, we pray that we would always remember all those who will go to bed hungry tonight. Help us to never take anything for granted. Amen.”

Instantly, I lost my appetite. I wasn’t thankful anymore. I was sad. Sad for the people around the world who suffer because of poverty and famine and war. And then I was angry. Angry that my thanksgiving had been stolen away from me.

I ate my food. I didn’t have seconds. I didn’t eat the pie. I left before the football game. I went back to campus and sat in my dorm room, alone and guilty. My Thanksgiving Day was ruined.

As prosperous Western Christians, we carry a lot of guilt. We receive almost daily from the media a story of how much better off we are from the rest of the world (a narrative that is often greatly exaggerated). This narrative is so entrenched that we think of Africa as a continent of poor sick people, of South America as a continent of gangs and drug dealers, of the Middle East as a great big bomb, and of east Asia as a giant sweatshop. The twitter tag #firstworldproblems is another great example of how we think we in the West are so unique when compared to the rest of the world (although I assure you, plenty of Africans and South Americans also worry about how they’re going to find the time to catch up on all their shows and what shoes to wear with those earrings).

That’s a bit of a tangent, I guess, but my point is that we carry a lot of guilt, like “Why should we be so well off when other people have it so bad?” and we feel bad about spending a hundred dollars a month on internet and cable when we know that there are like a billion people in the world who live on less than a dollar a day. People who live in affluence are constantly plagued by their guilt of being well off while others are struggling, and I think that this makes it difficult for us to celebrate and to truly give thanks. We don’t feel like we can give thanks when other people are suffering.

We let our guilt kill our gratitude.

In Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, the Teacher writes:

“There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give away,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.”

There is a time for everything. The early Christians and ancient Jews took this teaching very seriously, and structured their time appropriately so that they would be sure to do everything. Seasons of feasting were balanced with seasons of fasting and almsgiving. Seasons of celebration were balanced with seasons of mourning. Before you can have Easter you have to go through Lent. Before you can have Christmas you have to go through Advent.

But it goes the other way, too. We can’t fast all the time. We can’t always give. We can’t always repent. We can’t always work. We can’t always intercede. Sometimes, we have to celebrate. We have to feast. We have to enjoy. We have to rest. We have to give thanks. And for people who deal with heavy guilt, or profound sorrow, or crippling anxiety, or whatever, sometimes the real discipline is setting aside our troubles and our to-do list for celebration.

Thanksgiving is a harvest festival. On Thanksgiving Day we celebrate the fruit that the earth has brought forth. We thank God for creating the world and for sustaining us in life and for forgiving our sins through his Son Jesus Christ and for giving us eternal life. We thank God for all of the great things that he has given us, and it’s appropriate and right to thank him for these things.

So, this Thanksgiving season, don’t let your guilt kill your gratitude. Instead of ending your Thanksgiving prayer with a guilt-ridden sentence of remembering the poor, thank God for organizations and individuals who are devoted to ending global poverty and hunger. Thank God for the fact that for the first time in human history, ending extreme poverty within the next 25 years is a realistic goal (DW)! Thank God for agencies like World Renew, that work to alleviate the suffering of people in difficult situations around the world. Thank God for countries that are devoted to international aid and caring for refugees. Thank God, without letting your guilt get in the way.

Thank God. It’s Thanksgiving, after all!

Submitted by Pastor John