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Turning hard holidays into holy days

The holidays will look very different this year. There may be an empty seat at the table, either from a loved one’s passing or a pandemic that has limited the ability to gather. Instead of celebrating, many will be grieving. Many will feel lonely. Many will be missing traditions they have carried on for years.

How do we turn these hard holidays into holy days, where we focus on Christ and not the difficult circumstance? How do we break bread and give thanks when our hearts are raw and weary?

A holy day is a day set apart for God. It is different from the ordinary day where we go about our regular routines. Thanksgiving is already special, but is it holy? Is it set apart for the very purpose of honoring God and giving thanks for who He is and for all He has done for us?

Thanksgiving isn’t holy by the world’s standards, but it can be for those of us who abide in Jesus.

We can designate this time of Thanksgiving - not as just a holiday to eat and watch football - but as a day to reflect on our many blessings and to correct areas where we are not being a blessing.

If these last nine months have taught us anything, they should have taught us to number our days. We don’t want to live through a pandemic and not gain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12). We don’t want this pain without purpose. Holy purpose. We don’t want to have regrets when this day, or our final day, is done.

There may be family members we need to forgive or ask forgiveness from. There may be loved ones who need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. We may need to sit before the Lord and ask Him to give us a heart of gratitude, which precedes a heart of growth, or a heart of forgiveness, which precedes freedom.

Set this time of thanksgiving apart and dedicate it to the Lord and His work. This is what will make Thanksgiving Day not just another holiday, but a holy day.

If you are having a hard time mustering up the courage for a grateful heart – and it does take courage in these crazy days - focus on the provision of God amidst the wilderness.

When the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, God provided water from rocks, manna from heaven, quail from the sky. He brought forth abundance from nothingness. God was at work even in the wilderness. Believe that this same, unchanging God is still at work now, even though this year looks very, very different and very, very bleak.

On the night when Jesus was betrayed, He took the bread at the Last Supper, gave thanks before breaking it and said, "This is my body, which is for you" (I Corinthians 11:15). If Jesus can give thanks before He willingly went to the cross to be crucified, then we can give thanks in our own situations.

We must keep the cross of Christ ever before us to put self-pity ever behind us.

My stepfather passed away unexpectedly a year ago, two days before Thanksgiving and the day before my mother’s birthday. When he died, we weren’t sure what we were going to do. The timing, while never good in our estimation, seemed particularly terrible. All eyes were on my mother and how we could best love and support her. She decided, bravely, that we would still gather. We would still celebrate life. We would comfort one another, cry and laugh and even give thanks amidst our heartbreak.

Because God was within her, she did not fall (Psalm 46:5).

If God is within you, you will not fall either, no matter how difficult this holiday seems. It doesn't have to be a hurdle to jump or a day to dread. It can be a holy day as you cast all your cares on the Lord and let Him strengthen you. When we abide in Jesus, we will have the gumption to be grateful, even as we grieve, because of the good news of the gospel.

As the peace of Christ rules in your heart, you will be able to give thanks (Colossians 3:15).

You can follow the footsteps of a widow, precious in the eyes of Jesus, who was clothed with strength and dignity and could laugh without fear of the future even as she mourned the death of her husband (Proverbs 31:25).

Whatever you might be mourning this Thanksgiving - seemingly big or small - know that your eternal Husband, Jesus, mourns with you even as He prays and fights for you. Know that God in His great compassion is measuring your tears. Just as Jesus weeped before He raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus weeps with you now in your grief, your loneliness, disappoint and weariness (John 11:35).

And one day, He will wipe away every tear from your eyes, because there will be no more death, disease or disappointment (Revelation 21:4).

When we abide in Jesus, we will have the gumption to be grateful, even as we grieve, because of the good news of the gospel.

We know this pandemic or the loss of a precious loved one is not the end of the story. Because God the Son entered into history as a human who lived a sinless life, took on all our sins at the cross, died and rose again, our story can be different.

We can grieve, but with hope. We can know that this "light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Corinthians 4:17).

My family will have an empty chair at our table this year. But our day won’t be defined by grief, although there will most certainly be some tears. We will give thanks for the years we had with my stepfather. We will thank God that he didn’t have to live through a pandemic that would have isolated him from the world because of his age and preexisting conditions.

We will trust that God is at work and His timing is perfect, that He has ordained all of our days before even one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16). We will say with Job, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).

We will turn our eyes upon Jesus, fix our gaze on Him and give thanks. Happy, holy Thanksgiving Day, friends.


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