Do you have that tradition during the holidays where you go around the table and each person states what they are thankful for this year? I love that time! I love that time because I actually have things to be thankful about in my life and I love to share the joys of that experience with others!
But I wonder how people who, legitimately, don’t have anything to be thankful for, feel in those moments?
Is it ok, to be in a place where you can’t be thankful at this moment? I know what you are saying, “Come on, Pastor, that is not true. We can always thank God for life, health, and strength.”[ii] Except some people are grieving the loss of the life of someone they love this year. Except some people don’t have health this year but, rather, recently received the worst of news. Except some people are not strong at all; they are tired, beaten, and exhausted, and may even be one breath closer to giving up.
I remember when my young wife was lying, near death, in a hospital bed from multiple strokes with no sign of a diagnosis, much less a cure, in sight. I remember being by her bedside days on end with nothing changing. I remember when blood flow got so critically low in her brain she had aphasia; she could not remember her words, forgot my name, and eventually forgot who I was, and reverted to being like a mere confused child, whom I could not help. Was God any less good then? I know, theologically, no, God is “the same yesterday and today and forever.”[iii] However, I assure you, had you come waltzing into the hospital room and belted out, “God is good all the time.” And expected me to reply, “And all the time God is Good!” You might have gotten a rather shocking reply from a Pastor.
It is ok, to be too hurt, too broken, too beaten, to not “feel the cheer of this time of year!” Just in case you skimmed it, King David was not just full of cheers, praises, and Psalms of Thanks, David hit such emotional lows as I should hope never in my life to hit. But the point is, both ends of the spectrum are legitimate placements of the spectrum for Christians.
This year, no matter the holiday in question, why not stop trying to force people to come up to where you think they ought to be, and you go down to where they are. That is what Jesus does. He does not call us up to His level. He meets us at our hurts, our struggles, and our needs. He is incarnate with our pain and he walks that path with us.
This morning in my devotion time I was struck deeply but a line in Psalms 91:15 that I have missed over and over again,
“I (the LORD) will be with him in trouble,”
Yes, yes, yes! There it is! There is that one thing to be thankful for even if all other gratitudes have run out!
When you lose that job.
When the doctor gives you bad news.
When you miss that loved one.
When the love of your life walks out the door.
When your addiction threatens to rise up and take you over.
When that last breath seems so hard to come.
“I, the LORD, will be with you in that trouble,” call on me.
“I, Yahweh, will be with you in that trouble,” Seek me.
When the righteous cry out, and the LORD Yahweh hears them;
Stop trying to get the brokenhearted to shout out praises, and spread cheer when what they need is to shed their tears. Take them to the foot of the cross to the God of the crushed spirits, broken hearts, and dashed dreams. Take them to the God who, on the cross, cried out, feeling utterly forsaken. Take them to the expressed compassion of the Savior who put your broken self back together again, and keeps doing it, even now, when you ought to know better.
The path to a Hallelujah may have to start with a cold broken whisper.
Even in my most broken moments, days, and years, what I clung to was, knowing in the deepest part of the body, heart and core, that Jesus had died for me and that if he decided not to do another thing for me as long as I was on this globe, no one could take away my cold, broken “Hallelujah” of knowing God was still there, and would never stop being there, even if nothing ever got better again. He’d save me eternally in the end … this broken praise, leads to the joy that comes in the morning.
It’s ok, hold tight. Don’t let go. Yahweh will be with you in this trouble. And that is enough for you to be thankful. If that is all you’ve got, you have everything! Hold on to the cold, broken praise. You might be crushed, bruised, and weeping, but God dwells in the midst of your pain, and He holds you up and in the end, leads you to the whispered, “Hallelujah.”
Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah (live at the Montreal Jazz Festival 2008)