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As Thanksgiving approaches and I take time to count my blessings I am haunted with memories. I am haunted by the memory of so many stories of sexual impurity, drug and alcohol abuse and murder in schools and in the lives of teenagers. I am haunted by the brokenness of many marriages, and a divorce rate that is far too high. I am haunted by the memory of human slaughter done by governments which is so senseless and evil, the death of so many caused by hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes is difficult to even comprehend. The randomness of violent crime in our cities is very haunting, especially in the night.
When such haunting memories make it hard to give thanks, the words of Paul in Philippians 4:4 can bring us back to thankfulness in the Lord. Near the end of this letter to one of his favorite congregations Paul broke into joyful praise, writing, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice.”
He admonished the Philippians and us to lift our haunting memories to the Lord in prayer. Do not be anxious about all this. Offer our petitions and thanksgivings to God, and we will know the peace of God that can rule in our heart and mind.
But perhaps some of the realists among you say, “Hold it. That is like burying your head in the sand. It is hard to be joyful when one is lonely, grieving, depressed, ill, afraid, bored, or stressed out.”
Paul never buried his head in the sand. He knew the dark side of life. He was imprisoned, shipwrecked, beaten, rejected, stoned and left for dead. His future probably held death, for he wrote this letter from a Roman prison. So when he wrote these words he made it clear it was not in his own strength or ability that he was full ofjoy, but in the Lord. This is where we find our peace when we are haunted by memories of life’s tragedies.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” Such joy is a common reaction to meeting the Lord on the road of life. After the shepherds saw the baby Jesus in Bethlehem, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2:20).
When old man Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms at Jesus’ dedication in the temple, he said, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples; a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people, Israel” (Luke 2:29).
To Peter, Andrew, James, and John, Jesus says, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they dropped their nets and followed him (Mat. 4:20).
The woman at the well, after receiving forgiveness, became the first evangelist, saying, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done. He cannot be the messiah, can he?” They left the city and went to meet this amazing man (John 4:29).
Because God loved the world he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life. Because His son is our Lord and Savior we can be full of joy this Thanksgiving and always, no matter what memories may haunt us. This Thanksgiving start writing down all the things you are thankful for. Go over this list of blessings every day. If you ever lost your sense of thankfulness this simple exercise will help you regain it as you remember over and over all that God has done for you.
Al Earley is the pastor at La Grange Presbyterian Church. The views expressed in this column are those of the writer.