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How to give thanks when misery abounds

Thanksgiving Day prayers are a dicey business after a year like 2005.

The fact is that, for many, this has not been a good year. In the aftermath of a tsunami, we discovered tens of thousands dead and hundreds of thousands starving. Our children, deployed in an unpopular war, having died by the thousands. A shooting spree at a Georgia courthouse left three dead and terrorized a city. We watched as Terry Schiavo's death pitted good people against each other. Suicide bombers killed for the pleasure of killing. Hurricanes gutted our nation, killing thousands with its fury and leaving the Gulf Coast and its people reeling. AIDs continued to claim lives at increasing rates, and famine and war kill those in Africa with slaughterhouse efficiency.

Locally, news has also caused heartache. Hundreds of area employees — at Delphi and Cargill and Goodyear and Solutia — have lost, or will likely lose, their jobs. A bitter strike at Boeing has good people sitting at picket lines without pay. Good people died horrible deaths in airplane crashes, car wrecks and train collisions; from cancer and from twisted violence.

Many good things have happened, too, but prayers of thanksgiving, when so many have suffered and died, risk veering into the Pharisee's prayer: "God, I thank you that I am not like other people."

How to give thanks when misery abounds?

As long as is our list, the miseries of the first Thanksgiving celebrants in Plymouth Colony were even worse. Many died before they reached America's frigid coast in November 1620. Half of those who remained died that winter of scurvy and exposure; many more died in the famine of 1621.

Even as they celebrated the first Thanksgiving in October 1621, food was so scarce that the settlers were on half rations. And they faced another winter that would claim many more lives.

How to give thanks when misery abounds?

In 1777, George Washington stopped his men in frigid fields to give thanks with his troops. Death stretched behind them, death and disease stretched ahead.

How to give thanks when misery abounds?

When President Abraham Lincoln gave his Thanksgiving address in November 1863, reasons for thanks were even harder to come by. As Lincoln acknowledged, "the awful calamity of civil war ... now desolates the land." Brother killed brother, the best of our nation ended their days in shallow graves.

How to give thanks when misery abounds?

Thankfulness in the midst of despair requires humility and faith. The humility to recognize that we cannot understand God's ways; the faith to know that God's good is infinite.

As we endure pain, God gives us the strength to cope and to learn. "Give thanks to the Lord Almighty, for the Lord is good," wrote Jeremiah. "His love endures forever."

It is right that we give thanks for our family and friends, for the bounty on our table, even though others must do without. It is right that we give thanks that God gives us the opportunity to minister to those who need his grace in human form.

"Our hearts ache," Paul wrote, "but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything."

We should give thanks for the little pleasures — the turkey and dressing, the comfort of family, the laughter and hope — but most of all, we should give thanks for the infinite blessings bestowed upon us. That blessing comes not from cranberry salad or even from family.

How to give thanks when misery abounds?

The answer is found not in mere hope, but in the certainty that our wounds will be healed, our fears relieved, our finite grief traded for infinite joy.

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