Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What I Have To Be Thankful For

This is that traditional time of the year where it is appropriate to take stock of all that you are thankful for, so this blog post is dedicated to that end.

I am thankful for a house to live in. I am thankful for food to eat. I am thankful for a car to drive and wearing shoes on my feet. I am thankful for the air that I breathe, and the water I can brew into coffee. I am thankful for what might end up being one of the shortest commutes in history ever to a job that I love to do, that I consider a joy to do. I am thankful for a wife who gives me insight into how God must relate to us everyday.

But these are the things that I am supposed to be thankful for, right? Are there any great revelations here? Sure you can say that not everyone in the world has some or all of these, but anyone who knows me knows that I am thankful for these things. So nothing new is revealed, and everyone who reads any of the above is left with perhaps a warm and fuzzy feeling.

That, to me, isn't what I think the true spirit of being thankful is really about. I believe in being thankful wholeheartedly, and heaven help me if I am not thankful for all the obvious blessings I have, but it is too easy to be thankful for the good things in life. And if life teaches any of us anything it is that it isn't easy.

With that being said, I am thankful for the pain I endured. I am thankful for those who have crushed me emotionally and taken me to and past my limits. I am thankful for the frustration I have endured from family and friends who I have said don't understand me. I am thankful for all the "no's" I have heard, and the doors that have been closed on me. I am thankful for the promises that have been made but later broken.

The obvious question you might be asking about any of this is "why?"

Why would I be thankful for the pain I have gone through physically, emotionally, and spiritually? C.S. Lewis in his book "The Problem of Pain" tells us that when we experience pain, which is unpleasant, it alerts us that something is wrong and we need to get it fixed. If we had a life free from pain in any of its forms we would never know if anything was wrong with us.

I may be young but I have experienced great pain in my life. I was a sophomore in college and fully believing I was doing the Lord's will by virtue of being in the college He called me to. What I wasn't doing was applying myself to my studies, and what I was doing was pursuing nearly everything else. What stopped me was a kidney stone and three surgeries over the course of seven weeks to try and have it removed. Where might I be now if I hadn't experienced that pain?

Some months prior to this experience I had come to know this young lady who I became quite infatuated with. She was mostly the reason why I didn't pay the kind of attention to my studies I needed to. I loved her deeply, and I was convinced that she loved me too. At the beginning of my sophomore year she had to leave the college for reasons I won't get into (it isn't my place to), but we agreed to see each other when we could and keep in touch. My kidney stone and subsequent surgeries brought those plans to an abrupt halt.

Once I recovered she came to campus for a visit, and she brought with her a new boyfriend, effectively telling me it was over. I was still on prescribed painkillers (not abusing them I promise) and that deadened the emotional pain as much as it did the physical pain. When I no longer needed the medication and the reality of her betrayal to me and my feelings set in, I wanted nothing to do with her whatsoever and told her as much. But had I not experienced that, as devastating as it was, I would not have known how precious true love really is.

In addition to losing any affection she may have ever had for me and that I know (and still claim to this day) I had for her, I lost the college I was attending. I needed to leave as my grades were not good, and I was certain God was punishing me. This sent me on my temper tantrum, where while I didn't stop believing in God I wanted nothing to do with Him or His plan for me, which I was sure He rescinded at that point. Three years later I was walking across the Houghton College stage, renewed, restored in my faith and calling. That experience taught me that God needs to be my first passion in all things, and nothing is worth pursuing if it isn't in Him.

I am thankful for the frustration I have experienced throughout my life, mostly from family and some friends, and frequently due to their lack of understanding who I am. It isn't any secret that while growing up in my parents' house I was frustrated with them as much as they probably were with me. Again, no state secrets revealed here. But it helped me learn to go beyond the surface and get to really know someone. It taught me how to listen to others and strive to understand them.

The "no's" have been a particular blessing. When I graduated from Houghton I was ready to take a job as the associate pastor of the church I interned at. But with the economy taking a downturn in combination with something I had said that was misinterpreted by their church board, my position was taken away before I could even start it. Bummed but undaunted I tried to contact every Nazarene district I could in the hopes that there would be an opening I could fill. Nothing. Since I graduated from Houghton I thought I would try the Wesleyan Church. Still nothing. I started looking at small, independent of denomination while actually a denomination unto themselves churches, and even was contacted back by a couple of them. Nothing doing. It came to the point where I was finally going to be told "YES" but God said "NO". I didn't understand it at the time, but my experience told me when God says no to something you need to listen and obey. Some time later I found out that the church had a massive split that had been building for a long time, and I would have been caught in the middle of it had I ignored God. Hearing God say no eventually led Him to saying yes when I was offered a second time the first church I would be the lead pastor for. I can't count the blessings that have come from that.

Finally, you probably have been made promises that were left unfulfilled. Me too. It has made me appreciate the value of honesty, and makes James 5:12 all the more real to me.

If we are only thankful for the blessings in our lives, are we truly a thankful people?

As strange as it may seem I am thankful for every experience I have had, as they have made me into who I am today. God has worked them together for His good, just as He promised. Our Lord never breaks His promise.

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