This week families across the country will celebrate Thanksgiving. In a normal year, turkeys fill both ovens and stomachs, parades and NFL football games play on our televisions, and we grab those famous afternoon naps.
But, for many people, this Thanksgiving won’t be normal at all. Many families will, for the first time, have empty chairs at their table, and others won’t celebrate the holiday with the ones they most love. Why? Because it’s still 2020, a year that’s been filled with pandemic and uncertainty. As COVID-19 continues to spread across the world, we realize this Thanksgiving may look little like the holiday we have grown to love and appreciate.
With this reality, many families have chosen to cancel Thanksgiving altogether. Why celebrate the holiday if you cannot celebrate it the way you are used to? If extended family can’t gather together, why celebrate at all? What is there to be thankful for when families are apart from each other and uncertainty about the future continues to lurk behind every nook and cranny of our lives?
In a year like this, how can we be thankful at all?
We may not know the future, but we trust a God who does and is working all things out for our good and His glory.
There is certainly reason to lament the year that has been 2020. But there are also ample reasons to be thankful for what the Lord has done and is doing. Here are eight reasons to be thankful this year:
1. Extra time with family.
When everything shut down in early March, we spent more time than ever in our homes. For those of us who live with families, this was a sweet time we’ll never forget. We spent extra time with our spouses and children, savoring every moment that we may have missed before. Perhaps you spent extra time with your parents or roommates, getting to know them at a deeper level. We can be thankful for this special time.
2. Provision in the midst of hardship.
We all faced hardship this year, whether that be the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, or the general anxieties we faced in 2020. But God provided. God was there. And we were never alone or in want in these times.
3. Medical professionals and essential workers.
When we retreated to our homes, medical professionals and essential workers suited up and went back to work. They faced the pandemic head-on, and we can never thank them enough.
4. Scientists who are developing COVID therapeutics and vaccines.
God has gifted all of us with particular skills and vocations. In this season, we can be particularly thankful for those he’s called to be scientists. They’ve used their expertise to develop COVID therapeutics and vaccines; let’s be grateful for them and their work.
5. Technology that has allowed churches to continue to focus on the mission and hear the Word proclaimed.
Churches quickly adapted to the COVID-19 crisis, shifting to online tools to communicate the Word and stay in touch. We can be thankful for the technology that has allowed us to stay connected, whether that be social media, Zoom, or recording equipment. These tools have allowed us to be virtually present when we are unable to be physically present.
6. The church.
Even in 2020, the church continues to fulfill the mission. This shouldn’t surprise us. Throughout history, the church has survived plagues and pandemics. The church has survived divisive elections and social unrest. The church will survive no matter what happens — including COVID-19. Jesus tells us in Matthew 16:18 that he will build his church “and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” Let’s be thankful for this promise and God’s people.
7. The reminder that Christ still reigns.
We have endured months of lockdown, social and economic unrest, and a divisive election season. Through all of this Christ still reigns. It doesn’t matter who sits on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue because Christ is seated on his throne at the right hand of the Father. We can be thankful for this reassuring truth.
8. God is still sovereign.
This year may have caught us off-guard, but it in no way surprised God. The Father is still sovereign over all. What does that mean for us? We are not in control — and that’s okay. Believers can rest knowing that while we fail to grasp the future, the Father knows it. Be thankful we have a God who is sovereign over creation; a God who spoke creation into existence; a God whose words the oceans, land, and sky obey. We may not know the future, but we trust a God who does and is working all things out for our good and His glory.
We certainly have more reasons to be thankful this year. What are you thankful for this holiday season? Whether you’re gathering with your family or not this Thanksgiving, don’t just skip over a season of thankfulness and self-examination. We can all agree: We have much to be thankful for.
Brandon Ward serves as the Assistant and Editor at our sister center at Southeastern Seminary, The Center for Preaching and Pastoral Leadership. Learn more.