“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thess. 5: 16-18
We know that we’re supposed to be give thanks in all circumstances, not for them. Gotcha. But when it comes time to express gratitude for some of the things you’ve been through this past year, are you afraid you’ll choke on your turkey first?
Nearly every night, I begin my prayers with this heartfelt acknowledgment: “Lord, we have so much to be thankful for, and we truly are!” Like the rest of you, Mike and I don’t reserve our expressions of gratitude for one special holiday in late November.
As we share our Thanksgiving meal with family and friends this Thursday, many of us will take time to call out our blessings. But what about the “gifts” that have come our way that we’d rather not name? The ones we’d return if we could?
Last week I had the privilege of speaking to nearly 200 women at a local church on the topic of the unexpected gifts of the season: surprise, suffering, and sacrifice. I quoted from a piece written by my close friend Dr. Carmen Imes, who is now Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biola University. I’d read her post years ago and never forgotten.
At the time of writing, Carmen was attending the church we pastored in Wheaton, IL. Mike and I were intimately acquainted with the dark valley her family was walking through due to false allegations made by a colleague. Carmen was not only writing about suffering, she was living it.
Within hours after the event ended, I began to receive text messages and email requests for copies of Carmen’s words.
With her permission, I share them here with you today.
“God has gifts to give us that can only come wrapped in suffering.
We would rather not receive them. We’d rather mark them “return to sender” and move on with things as they are. But we don’t get to choose our gifts. The Wise Gift Giver chooses for us.
At first it looks like a mistake, or at least a white elephant. This? For me? Never! It must be some kind of joke. This doesn’t belong in my life! But in fact God sees far ahead, and he knows just what we’ll need to make it through the seasons to come. So he starts working well ahead of time to get us ready.
I don’t mean to say that God is the author of suffering. He’s not. But he treasures the opportunity that suffering affords to meet us in a special way and to refine us.
As I look back over my life these ugly gifts are some of the most vivid, and (in time) most precious.
The gift wrapped in rejection was confidence in who I am in Christ.
The gift wrapped in the blackness of sin was a profound appreciation for God’s holiness.
The gifts wrapped in poverty were dependence on God and resourcefulness.
The gifts wrapped in illness were dependence on others and sensitivity.
The gift wrapped in the ache of homesickness and culture shock was a thirst for more of God.
[This past year] has been one rich in gifts—
The gift wrapped in pressure is productivity.
The gift wrapped in spiritual conflict is heightened discernment.
The gifts wrapped in waiting are perseverance and trust.
The gift wrapped in failure is grace for others and myself.
The gift wrapped in confrontation is humility and grace.
The gift wrapped in injustice is identification with Christ.
The gift wrapped in isolation is the sweetness of His presence.
The gift wrapped in correction is growth.
The gift wrapped in suffering is empathy.
The gift wrapped in layer after layer of disappointment is a well-worn path of prayer to the throne (a path that gets easier and easier to find).
These are gifts I wouldn’t wish on anybody. They are miserable to receive. On the other hand, once we receive them with thanks we become stronger, richer, deeper, and softer. At some point we see ourselves in the mirror and realize that we are not who we once were. These gifts we didn’t want have transformed us.
Most importantly, we are profoundly aware that we cannot do life on our own. We need Him. Desperately.
And that’s the best place to be.
What gifts has God given you this year?” – Dr. Carmen Imes
Please watch your inboxes this Friday for a special Christmas gift-giving opportunity, gift-wrapping and shipping included!