Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! I pray that we are all able to slow down and breathe today, and that we’re able to take some time to truly focus on how many reasons we all have to be thankful. This is easier to do some years than others, as many of you might know at this time. Sometimes being thankful is a battle of the mind and will, but always one worth engaging.
One bright and encouraging spot in my life these last few years has been a wonderful sweet gum tree, just off to the left from our porch. Squirrels have made it their haven, and last year a particularly feisty mother squirrel had triplets within its canopy. An entire colony of northern bluebirds have used it as a transfer station, not to mention the mockingbirds and crows. Most notably, at the tallest point of the tree, a sturdy branch has provided the perfect perch for a majestic bald eagle and his wife, and the two birds often used this vantage point as a hunting spot. Most mornings, I could look out and see those mighty birds there, and grew to think, “today is going to be a great day. It’s an eagle day.”
Let me show you a recent picture of my favorite tree…
I came home last week and heard a chain saw fire up outside. My husband was in the study, and I called in to him, “I’m sure its not the eagle tree, right?” The study window looks right out to the neighborhood green space where the tree stood, so I knew he could see what was happening. No response.
I looked out the window, and a whole crew of people was working to take down that beautiful tree. It happened so much faster than I could have imagined, and watching it stirred so many emotions. Granted, I am naturally emotional and sensitive anyways, plus this has been a particularly difficult season - but I was surprised by the depth of emotion that the felling of this tree provoked.
I was so angry and sad, and my thoughts swirled. Who are these people cutting down this wonderful tree? Don’t they know that’s where the eagles sit? There is no tree like it anywhere near, and now they won’t have a place to perch and hunt on this end of the neighborhood. What about the squirrels and the other birds? Who made this decision and why didn’t they say anything to us? What could possibly be so important that this thriving tree had to be taken down? Is this for that electrical project they’ve been gearing up towards - couldn’t they have gone around this tree? There’s plenty of room on every side. You know, it might have been an accident or an oversight - they might have even meant to take a different tree. And this decision was probably made by people in a far-off committee room, who know and care nothing about this tree. They probably just wanted to sign off on this and get to their tee time. Why do we have to put up with such ridiculous, insensitive actions? People just don’t even care…
And I’m just getting started. I was busy doing all kinds of things that needed to be done that day, but my thoughts were a chaotic, angry mess. I was attempting to take hold of my thoughts and make them go in a different direction, half-heartedly at first, and then more seriously the longer this went on. It might feel pretty good to indulge raw emotions for awhile, but there comes a point when you can master them or be doomed for them to master you. I am old enough to know that one unchecked afternoon of angry thoughts can lead to a much longer and messier tangle than anyone wants. Even just reading through the above paragraph of gut response, can you hear where this line of questioning is actually headed? WIth God’s grace, I was finally able to be honest with myself. All of these thoughts and questions really swirl around one question…
What about me?
I have some options -
The world we live in tells me I should dwell in my anger, and even increase its energy and power by pushing it back towards others. I could lash out at the tree crew and neighborhood improvements committee and energy company, making ugly phone calls and writing angry emails and social media posts with all of my jumbled accusations. I could call the local news outlets and make an issue of the removal of the eagles’ perch, stirring up anger and animosity in others in my community.
My heart tells me I should indulge in my hurt feelings and trampled rights. No one should be able to do something like that to me, that impacts my life in such a strong way. No one should get away with making what I see as such poor decisions that affect others, without having to pay or answer for it. My heart seeks to convince me that my question, “What about me?”, is a supremely legitimate and important concern.
Neither of these avenues of action are uncommon. What both the world and my heart are telling me are widely accepted, even expected, responses to a terribly frustrating and disappointing circumstance.
But on this Thanksgiving, I am compelled to remember our wonderful Lord and Savior Jesus, who taught a very different way to handle disappointment and wrong.
In Luke 13, there is such an interesting passage…
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."
Wait, Jesus said this?
Yes. Here is Jesus, the very Word of God, Who was with God in the beginning, and through Whom all things were made. Here is Jesus, fully God and yet also fully man, fully knowing the hearts of people and the absolute brokenness of the world.
How interesting and thought-provoking is His statement! The two circumstances He refers to, obviously dramatic and real-life episodes from that day, had upset people and caused the familiar blame game we still play today. Whose fault was this? Who deserves reproach and recrimination? Someone must pay…
Jesus is not blind to the fact that terrible, unthinkable, devastating and disappointing things happen. Nor is He under the delusion that any of the rest of us can do anything to fix the world’s brokenness completely. If that were true, He would never have had to leave Heaven and come here to save us. Yes, Someone ultimately must pay, and He was on His way towards the cross even as He uttered these words.
Jesus has a very different perspective on how we ought to respond to bitter disappointment than the world or than my own heart, and any of us would be foolish to listen to either of those things rather than to Him. His advice and remedy is simply for each of us to get our own heart right with God.
So, the question really is “what about me?”, but from Jesus’ perspective. I have used the example of this tree (which I never should have allowed to hold such power over my well-being anyways). but so many of us are facing really heavy things - terrible loss, bitter betrayal, death, illness, injury, insult, broken trust, slander, and on and on. The difficult circumstances that this broken world and its broken people can find themselves embroiled in are endlessly messy and surprising. What will any of us do with our disappointment?
The best option we have is to take Jesus’ advice and focus on our own hearts.
This week provides the perfect starting place - GRATITUDE is a wonderful and life-giving posture for any heart to assume. I have nothing that God has not given to me. One person asked an important question - if I were to begin losing things in my life for which I have neglected to give thanks to God, what would I have left? There is so much to be thankful for, even in the most difficult seasons of life! Life, breath, arms, legs, sight, the people that we love, the sound and feeling of laughter, the taste of chocolate, the touch of a cool breeze on an invigorating morning - the list can go on and on.
Thankfulness has real power to adjust our own perspective, to help us remember where we stand in the biggest picture, which is fully dependent on God. Gratitude had the power to absorb all of of our anger and frustration, replacing it with love and trust in God. Even with my silly example of a tree, instead of bemoaning its loss, I can give God real and heartfelt thanks for the many wonderful moments it provided for me and for so many others. I can be glad for whomever lives near the new tree that the eagles choose. I can look forward with hope instead of endlessly, fruitlessly looking back with bitterness.
As you gather together with the people you love, stop and give thanks to God for all of the wonderful gifts He has given. Let Him lift your heavy burdens of anger and disappointment, and instead fill your heart with love, trust, and gratitude in a fresh and new measure. May the Lord bless and keep you, and may your home be filled with His presence!
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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