“Turkeys are going to go fast this year,” my mom told me as she scanned her phone’s news feed a few weeks before Thanksgiving.
I rolled my eyes. What’s new? I thought.
Fewer folks attend in-person services at church. Grocers spread limited boxes of baking soda across store shelves to mask the empty space. Why shouldn’t turkeys want to skip town for the holidays too?
I’ve often felt a similar instinct at this time of year. In the midst of so much loss, why participate at all? What’s there really to be thankful for? Perhaps we could postpone festivities dedicated to gratitude until we have more to celebrate.
This Thanksgiving, an estimated 7 million grieving Americans will gather around holiday tables with an empty seat that wasn’t there before the pandemic. If you’ve been struggling to muster appreciative feelings in your season of scarcity or grief, you’re not alone. In the midst of loss and sorrow, thankfulness can feel like a pasted-on smile, a forced emotion that denies our very real pain. A table set for celebration can make our hearts ache and stomachs turn, as we see only lack and disappointment heaped across the holiday board.
Whether you feel like your hands are full or empty this Thanksgiving, I’m convinced there’s a dish you can serve at your holiday table that will satisfy the honesty your heart craves and fill you with abundant hope. If tears feel like your daily food lately, lament might be just the addition you need for your holiday menu. This might be the perfect year to celebrate a grumbly grateful Thanksgiving.
Call it thankfulness or gratitude, appreciative feelings can be hard to access when life is hard. Thankfully, the psalms offer us a beautiful model of how to genuinely express gratitude in seasons of scarcity, pain, and disappointment. The Bible contains 42 psalms of lament, and each one begins in the same place—lack. From moaning about enemies who assault and mock to agonizing cries for relief from physical pain and emotional isolation, the psalms of lament invite us to acknowledge the aching hollowness of our grief and the emptiness that accompanies our sorrow.
If the holidays have you crying till your eyes are puffy (Ps. 6:7) or feeling the rejection of family or friends (Ps. 38:11), you can find psalms of lament to voice your complaint. Biblical lament invites us to talk and live honestly in grief. When we do, we open ourselves to hope. As we acknowledge the pain, sorrow, and lack in our lives, we discover that hope can exist not in exclusion of suffering, but in the midst of it. Psalms of lament show us how.
Name God’s Goodness
Biblical lament invites us to talk and live honestly in grief. When we do, we open ourselves to hope.
Midway through, each psalm of lament reaches a pivot point. The complaining wears down, and quiet settles in. And then, like the familiar cadence of prayer around the holiday table, the psalmist begins to give thanks. My heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing your praise. You are my King. (Ps. 13:5–6, 44:4) Pain mingles with praise. Grumbling gives way to glorifying. We are not left alone with lament. In sorrow, the psalms of lament affirm: praise can still be our song.
God invites us, too, in the quiet exhaustion of our grief, to name his goodness. We rehearse these truths to our hearts as a bold creed when scarcity is writ large across our lives. In want and plenty, God is good. In sorrow and joy, he is present. In all things he offers us the abundance of his power and lavishes us with provision. Truly, those who seek the Lord will lack no good thing (Ps. 34:10). Lament gives us opportunity to complain before God, but it always expands our vision to include the beauty of his faithfulness.
Act from Abundance
Psalms of lament model the believer’s full embrace of trust even when the cupboards are empty. When life feels hard or sad this holiday season, these Scripture passages can offer solace. But Thanksgiving’s resounding theme is abundance, regardless of whether the stores are short of turkeys this year. Thankfulness is more than appreciation for gifts received. True gratitude is always expressed in action. Abundance defies circumstances.
Thankfulness is more than appreciation for gifts received. True gratitude is always expressed in action.
Charles Spurgeon once preached, “I have a great need for Christ: I have a great Christ for my need.” As we acknowledge the places of real pain in our lives and lift high God’s name in praise, we will find the Spirit empowers us to act from abundance, to express the great Christ in word and deed to those around us. We will tap into the deep stores of God’s mercy that provide lavishly time and time again. We will want to mirror this generosity in the world around us.
It’s no surprise that families volunteer at soup kitchens this time of year, and shelters overflow with gifts. Regardless of our circumstances, thankfulness always births gracious action. Biblical lament reminds us that in sorrow we still have the choice to step forward in trust toward God. For some of us, it will mean showing up at the Thanksgiving celebration when we’d rather stay home and mourn. For others, it will mean extending hospitality or generosity toward others, living out of trustful abundance instead of scarcity.
The Psalmist writes, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps. 27:13). This Thanksgiving, may this be our prayer as well. Honest in its lack. Hopeful in its outlook. Wholly committed to the God who ordains all things for our good.