Giving thanks in an anxious world

Nov 23, 2015 by

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I came across some Thanksgiving statistics: Eighty-eight percent of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving Day. An individual might consume an average of 4,500 calories at Thanks­­giving dinner. Approximately 46 million Americans traveled for Thanksgiving in 2014. In 2013, 92.1 million people shopped on Black Friday.



Clearly, Thanksgiving is an important holiday. It’s one of the few times distant family members get together. They will eat, laugh and reminisce. Football fans will watch their favorite team beat up their opponent or get beaten. And the next day, many will spend huge sums shopping for Christmas.

Life is good. But is it? We are confronted daily with events that make us anxious. Unrelenting domestic and international violence has created uncertainty. Natural disasters have devastated nations. Racial, ethnic and religious bigotry have engulfed communities. There seems to be no end to the bad news.

As we eagerly await Thanksgiving, are you overwhelmed by events swirling around you? Are you able to rejoice in times of distress? Or is it difficult to give thanks for anything? I struggle with these questions as I ask, “What am I thankful for?”

I find some clues in the story of Robinson Crusoe. Crusoe felt alone when he was shipwrecked on a deserted island. Trying to make sense of his circumstances, he assessed his situation.

He was shipwrecked but alive. He was isolated, but he wasn’t starving. He had no clothes, but the climate was warm, and he didn’t need any. He had no defense, but nothing threatened him. He had no one to help him, but his ship was wrecked close to the shore, so he could get what he needed. Finally, he found human companionship in Friday. But even before that, he surmised he had much to be thankful for.

The story might provide insight into how we perceive thankfulness.

I will not say, “Don’t worry; be happy.” If we use the yardstick of Robinson Crusoe, in the midst of the chaos in the world we might worry, but we’ll be thankful.

If you are a justice seeker:

Be thankful for family who support your justice work.

Be thankful for friends who boldly speak truth to power in the face of being misunderstood.

Be thankful for your faith community, which sometimes finds it difficult to live out its commitment to our Creator God yet continues to work for a just and Christ-centered world.

Be thankful for brothers and sisters on the margins who won’t take “no” for an answer when they see and experience injustice.

Most of all, be thankful for Jesus Christ, our Messiah, who is our model for how to be committed to God and humanity.

Thanksgiving is a few days away, but you don’t have to wait. Be thankful now!

We have been given an opportunity to be a voice in the wilderness in our society. I understand that I have much to be thankful for. How about you?

John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., is a regional pastor for Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference.

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