When It's Hard to Be Thankful
It was the most painful moment I have experienced as a parent. Even now, nearly ten years later, it still stings.
Our newly adopted four year-old son was on the examining table in the doctor’s office. Two nurses were trying to draw blood, and he was thrashing and screaming. Finally, they enlisted my husband’s help. He had to lean over onto our son to hold him down. Using two of the very few English words he knew, he cried “No, Papa, no!” over and over.
After the procedure was finished, he rolled on the ground and yelled for over half an hour, refusing to be soothed by us. When he did look our way, he spit out angry phrases in Creole.
We had tried to explain what was happening before the procedure. His older sister, who had better language skills, attempted to translate for him. But I’m not sure it would have made sense to a young child, even in his home language. And our boy was already reeling from the transplant to a new country, a new language and culture, and a new home.
We needed him to accept the pain of the needle and the fear of seeing his own blood leave his body, based on trust. Yet he had so little to base trust on at that point.
As I remember how he pushed us away when we tried to hold him, I think of times I have refused God’s comforting embrace. Something hard happens to me, and in my heart I accuse him for allowing my misery. I can’t see any purpose for the pain, so I believe he must have allowed or caused harm to come to me.
Nearly every day I hear unwelcome news, and often it is about people I care deeply about. I see their confusion and hurt over the broken relationship, the diagnosis, the wandering child, the lost job, or the long unfulfilled dream. Chances are good you are also either walking through one of those challenges or seeing how they wound a loved one.
When life hurts, how do we approach Thanksgiving? Or respond to all the “happy, grateful, blessed” signs and T-shirts we see online and in stores? How do we thank a God who has let life hurt us?
In the case of our son at the doctor’s, even though he couldn’t see it at the time, we were doing exactly what good parents do. He needed medical screening and care when he arrived here from the Caribbean. We were protecting his health, so he could become strong and sturdy. And indeed, the blood tests indicated that malaria was in his system. Making that discovery allowed us to have it treated before it could harm him.
I can’t speak to the reason for, or the outcome of the current hurt in my life, or in yours. But I stake my hope on the fact that God has more than shown himself trustworthy.
He has proven himself in his repeated patience with the disobedient nation he led out of slavery and into the Promised Land.
By sending Jesus when the human race was beyond help or hope.
In extending forgiveness and a fresh beginning to me, a sinner in need of grace.
By revealing more of himself to all who seek Him with all their whole heart.
By never, ever leaving me or any one of us alone. When I look back on my life, I see over and over that he was not only beside me in my most difficult times, but he also went before me to create a way through.
How do we face Thanksgiving when life hurts? By leaning into the open arms of our Savior rather than turning away. We can borrow from the wisdom of Joseph (of the technicolored coat) who was able to say to his treacherous brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…” (Genesis 50:20, NIV).
Then, when we want to say “No, Papa, no”, we can whisper, “Yes, Father, I trust you. Thank you that you bring all things together for good for those who love you.”