This time of year, there are many opportunities for adults to listen in on children being asked, “What are you thankful for?” You can count on some standard answers: my parents, my toys, my food, my television, my dog, or school is out this week.
Yesterday in church, I heard an answer that made me catch my breath. A little boy, no more than four or five, said, “I’m thankful for my little sister who died in my arms, and for my sister who’s still with us.” The woman in charge of this sharing time during morning worship didn’t miss a beat. “Yes, we are too,” and she moved on to other children in the circle.
I was a visitor at that church. Perhaps everyone else in the small congregation knew the backstory. I was left with so many questions about the circumstances which brought out that response from a child. All I might presume about this family’s heartbreak are purely conjecture. It might not be true at all, but I think that little boy was expressing something very real to him.
But here’s my take-away from what I heard.
- In the company of a group of people who knew and loved him, he felt comfortable to share it aloud in front of the whole congregation. Maybe they had heard the story before – perhaps many times.
- His words seemed to echo adult words. Children absorb the ideas, actions, and attitudes of the grownups that surround them. It sounded like the adults in his life had conversations about this event with him and in front of him, and he voiced it as he understood it.
- This tragedy was something he mentioned in the context of giving thanks. In spite of the grief in that family over a baby’s death, their faith must give meaning to the loss. Sometimes, we speak it until we believe it, nevertheless, that little boy heard it.
For this Thanksgiving, indeed, throughout this holiday season, people will be missing loved ones. This may be their first time to have family gatherings without those others present. It’s tough to be happy when their absence is so palpable. Although we, as Christians, are not without hope.
Yet Paul presents us with this challenge in I Thessalonians 5:18,
“give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
I wonder if that little boy’s family had recited this verse among themselves.
The two verses that precede the one quoted above may give a clue to how we might do that when it’s really hard to be thankful.
1Th 5:16 Rejoice always,
1Th 5:17 pray without ceasing,
For those of you in the United States, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday this week. May you find joy and peace in your celebration, as you give thanks to God for His many blessings.