Thanksgiving Is Not Just a Day. Giving Thanks Is a Way of Life

Thanksgiving Is Not Just a Day. Giving Thanks Is a Way of Life November 24, 2023

“New Orleans: Thank you message in the grotto of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church; added by those for whom prayer or miracles were granted.” Date: 15 October 2007; Photo by Infrogmation of New Orleans; Creative Commons.

Cultivating a spirit of thankfulness is life changing. There’s a major difference between seeing life as a cup half empty (or less) and life as a cup half full (or more). This post is about seeing Thanksgiving not just as a day. Giving thanks is a way of life.

We are nearing three years since my adult son’s catastrophic brain injury. I will not hide from the fact that so much has been taken away from him, his wife and daughter, and his mother, sister, and me. There is enough evil and hardship to make one want to call it quits. But somehow, we keep getting back up each day. And while Christopher doesn’t get up—apart from the Hoyer Lift that staff use to place him in his wheelchair—Christopher keeps waking up each morning to a new day.

One of the ingredients to getting back up rather than giving up is giving thanks for the divine mercies along the way. Last night was a case in point. Christopher’s care facility was extremely short-staffed. Workers called in sick or simply didn’t show. I’m not sure. I was afraid there would not be enough staff to take care of their residents. Even with the shortage of staff, COVID was making its rounds at the facility. Different residents in Christopher’s unit were in quarantine. The virus never seems to take a day off. While wiped out from a very stressful day, the day crew stayed long into the evening. Their love for their residents and sense of duty spurred them on, even while hoping and waiting for evening staff replacements to arrive.

I was deeply thankful the day shift staff did not abandon Christopher and the other residents when their shift was over. As worn out as they were, they remained poised and compassionate in providing care for their patients. Similarly, I was very grateful for the few evening staff who did show up Thanksgiving evening. They realized that rain or shine, normal day or holiday, the sick and ailing need round the clock care.

My gratitude abounds for this care facility. We are blessed to live only a fifteen-minute car ride away. The next closest facility able to attend to Christopher’s particular health needs is a few hours away and would make it impossible for us to visit him every day.

My wife and I are thankful and relieved that we are somehow able to handle the complex challenges on various fronts in advocating for Christopher and his family. It’s a full-time job and a half and can be exasperating at times. What would happen if we weren’t around and reasonably sane (at least on my best days!)?

We are also grateful for the network of support that helps to sustain all of us. Just think if God couldn’t care less about our arduous struggle or couldn’t hear and answer prayer. It may have been C. S. Lewis who quipped, “I’m not thankful that a god exists, but that this God exists.” Which God? “God with us, Immanuel.” Jesus came to this world to be with us. He modeled and inspired his followers to provide holistic care for the demon-possessed, lame, sick, and dying. What would it be like if he had chosen to call in sick or not show up?

Just think if people didn’t show up in response to Jesus. What would life be like if they couldn’t care less or pray or provide sacrificially in various ways in response to his love and compassionate care?

You might be amazed how many times people tell me they read all my (long-winded) posts, pray regularly for Christopher and his family, and provide sacrificially. We don’t deserve such grace. Why would they care so deeply when they have so much else going on in their own lives? I am thankful for them and for you.

My gratitude abounds for Dr. Potter’s palliative care insights and medical ethical counsel from the evening of the injury to the present day. I am thankful for Pastor Schiave’s countless one-on-one workshops on emotional intelligence and self-management. We are thankful for a collection of competent, astute lawyers, and the opportunity to live and love on my son every day. There is so much to be thankful for amid searing pain and haunting loss.

How might you and I fill the void from loneliness, hardship, and depression on holidays like Thanksgiving, or blackened Fridays, pale Mondays, or any other day of the week? By being creative and finding some-ones and some things to be thankful for every day of the week.

That old, bouncy Christian tune, “Count Your Blessings,” that my mom used to sing at the top of her lungs at a moment’s notice in her operatic alto used to seem comical to me, but not anymore: “Count your blessings, name them one by one; Count your many blessings, see what God has done.” I take that song to heart in all seriousness—to survive and thrive by giving thanks and counting my blessings amid discouragement and depression. How I thank God for my parents’ legacy of faith, hope, and love.

I also thank God for humor, like the classic skit “Four Yorkshiremen” performed by Monty Python and the Secret Policeman’s Ball. Four wealthy men from Yorkshire look back on their humble beginnings and try to outboast one another as to who had it worse growing up. What if we were to try and compete only with ourselves to see if we can find more to be thankful for amid our various struggles in life than to complain about? Maybe we won’t be thankful “because we were poor,” but because we experienced mercies and grace amid impoverished circumstances of various kinds.

In closing, I wish to draw your attention to Bob Dylan’s song, “Thank God,” which may only have been performed once. It is an anti-drug message performed at a telethon charity event with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers back in 1986. You can find the lyrics at this link.

As I sing along with Bob today, I thank God for life, including my son’s life. I thank God for you and for music that helps me make it through. Thanksgiving’s not just a day. More powerful than the poison of bitterness or the COVID virus, thankfulness is a contagious way of life! One of the best medications for getting back up rather than giving up amid monumental struggles in life is giving thanks for divine mercies big and small along the way.

PS: While you’re giving thanks and gobbling down turkey leftovers today, why don’t you listen in as Bob Dylan plays the banjo on this old tune, “Turkey Chase”? How it helps to chase the blues away!

PS: You can find the various posts I have written about our long journey with TBI at this link. Thank you for your prayers!

About Paul Louis Metzger
Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology & Culture, Multnomah University & Seminary; Director of The Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins; and Author and Editor of numerous works, including Setting the Spiritual Clock: Sacred Time Breaking Through the Secular Eclipse (Cascade, 2020). You can read more about the author here.
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