So whatever happened to “Happy New Year?”
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It got quarantined and socially distanced. And buried beneath a blizzard of “breaking news” -- or “heartbreaking news.”
So how might we describe 2020? Stressful. Fearful. Awful.
How about thankful? Really?
If you’ve never been in Manhattan during a typical Christmas season, you’ll be overwhelmed by the crush of buses, taxis, oblivious drivers and herds of aggressive humans. But take an elevator to the top of the Freedom Tower and prepare for a change.
Suddenly, there’s the breathtaking big picture -- the rivers, Lady Liberty in the harbor, the oasis of Central Park, the ring of bridges. That trip in the elevator can elevate your spirit because you can see the beauty above the mayhem.
That’s what giving thanks does. And in this year with so much sadness and loss, that elevation is more needed than ever.
I grieve all those missing loved ones and friends this Thanksgiving – including our own.
I grieve the broken dreams, the shuttered businesses and schools, the missing paychecks, a wounded nation.
But grief and gratitude can coexist. Perhaps must exist if hope is going to defeat despair.
We can be grateful this Thanksgiving for a year that has opened our eyes to the things – and people – that really matter.
Thanksgiving was born amid great tragedy and loss. H. U. Westermayer points out that “the Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.”
It was hard to be thankful when, on the day after our grandson’s graduation, my wife – the love of my life – was suddenly gone.
I could not be grateful she was gone. But I found myself very grateful for what she had gone to.
We both believed the promise of Scripture that to be “absent from the body” is to be “present with the Lord.” I could grieve our loss, but be grateful for her gain. Heaven. No more pain, death or sadness. And Jesus.
I grieve the years we won’t have – I love the many years we did have.
So like that elevator to a bigger view, loss can help us see some blessings we otherwise might have missed.
For example, our losses have exposed life’s two lists. The things that really matter. And the things that really don’t. Our “normal” pace tends to jumble those lists. It sometimes takes a seismic wake-up call to get them back in order.
Years ago, when my wife was plunged into a Code Blue cardiac crisis, I almost lost her. But something happened through that trauma. I “re-treasured” this amazing woman. In all my busyness, I had unknowingly drifted into taking her for granted. From that crisis to our last moments ten years later, I cherished her more and more.
We can be grateful this Thanksgiving for a year that has opened our eyes to the things – and people – that really matter. Often, after a disaster has demolished homes, people will say, “It’s OK. Because we still have each other. And that’s what matters.”
That realization will spawn a page-filling list of people and experiences and lasting treasures we can thank God for.
A “lifequake” like 2020 can also open our eyes to beauty we might otherwise overlook. The COVID-proof magic of a sunset, of the changing seasons or the laughter of a child. Even the blessings who live next door or down the street. Those neighbors we’ve barely known.
And then there are gifts that are less inspiring, but potentially life-changing. Because a “lifequake” can expose what we need to fix. Just as disasters expose fatal flaws in a foundation or a levee.
The strange events of 2020 have forced lots of time together – or alone. A change that may have exposed some unresolved cracks in a marriage, the dysfunction in our family or even a darkness in our own soul.
So why would anyone be thankful for that? Because facing those revelations could save a marriage, a child – or even a life.
My most fervent “thank yous” in this year of so much losing are for the things we cannot lose. Things the Bible calls “eternal.”
One Bible writer, who had suffered horribly, said: “We don’t look at the trouble we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone; but the things we cannot see will last forever” (II Corinthians 4:18).
Someone said, “There are only two things that will still be there when time is no more. The people God made. And the Book He gave us.”
That Book, the Bible, is filled with promises that have sustained people for thousands of years. I stand on those promises like standing on rocks on the shore that have weathered every storm. And I see people with incalculable worth and forever futures.
Four days after the horror of September 11, 2001, President Bush spoke at the interfaith Day of Prayer at the National Cathedral. He concluded by reading from Scripture that says: “Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
I’m profoundly thankful this Thanksgiving – perhaps more than ever – for that anchor that holds.
Yes, in a year of grieving, there is hope in thanksgiving.
Your elevator is waiting.
Ron Hutchcraft is an author, speaker, and founder and president of Ron Hutchcraft Ministries and On Eagles’ Wings Native American youth outreach. His new book "Hope When Your Heart is Breaking" releases in Jan. 20201. His popular radio feature, "A Word with You," is heard daily in 5 languages on over 1,300 outlets around the world.