How Do We Give Thanks in the Midst of Loss?
An article from the Cathedral Times
by the Very
Reverend Samuel G. Candler,
Dean of the Cathedral of St.
Naturally, most of us enjoy giving thanks at
Thanksgiving for the good things of life.
But what if
Thanksgiving rolls around this year, and all we can remember is loss? A
few days ago, for instance, barely a week before Thanksgiving, I did a
funeral service for another child who had died. We know, most of us do,
that death is inevitable in this life; but none of us is prepared when a
child dies before his parents do.
I think of other
deaths during this past year. As Thanksgiving rolls around this year,
some places at the table will be empty. Some good people died this year,
some truly good people died. Some of us lost a marriage recently; even
if we knew divorce was necessary, we still lost something. Some of us
had children leave home, or friends leave town.
of us lost jobs this year, even as the economy was trying to sputter
back to life. Some of us had business deals fall through, sales that
didn’t happen. Some of us lost cases, or made poor investments, or lost
And some of us simply lost a few
inspiring dreams and hopes. What we expected in the spring has faded in
the fall. What we hoped for in the summer, even if we knew it was a long
shot, is cold and forgotten as winter arrives. We live with as many
lost hopes as we do lost realities.
How, then, do we
give thanks in the midst of loss? Well, we do it the same way we give
thanks in the midst of gain. We think outside of ourselves; we think
bigger than ourselves. “Giving thanks” means being willing to focus
attention on something or Someone larger than ourselves. It is hard, if
not impossible, to give thanks to a non-entity, to give thanks to No
I am thinking, of course, of God as that Someone
who is larger than ourselves. And even if some of us do not believe in
God, we usually give thanks to someone outside ourselves—to a friend or
family member. But the point is that “giving thanks,” necessarily leads
us to think outside of ourselves. When things are going well, it is good
and healthy to give away self-centeredness and self-absorption; it is
good to focus attention on someone else.
principle is true when things are not going well. To give thanks in the
midst of loss is to focus attention outside ourselves. I do not mean
thanking God for something gone bad, or for some tragedy. I do not think
God wills tragedy and senseless loss. But God does know loss. And God
does know the pain of our sadness when we lose. The God I love and
believe in, is the God who knows the height of my elation, but who also
knows the depth of my loss.
Following ancient Jewish
tradition, I have always thought that “giving thanks” is related to
“blessing.” For instance, we Christians bless the bread and wine of
Eucharist by giving thanks for God in a prayer called “The Great
Thanksgiving.” At meal times, many of us say a prayer whose title
alternates between “The Blessing” and “Returning Thanks.” We use two
different titles for the same prayer over food because, indeed, blessing
and giving thanks are related.
To give thanks is to
bless. When we ask God to bless our successes in life, we are thanking
God for being present in the midst of those events. In the same way, we
can also ask God to bless our failures in life. When we ask God to bless
our losses, we are thanking God for being present in the midst of those
Thanksgiving, then, means blessing God as we
remember both the gains and the losses of this past year. Bring both
the gains and the losses to the Thanksgiving table this year; bring
successes and failures. As you ask God to bless those events, even the
most painful ones can be transformed. They will be transformed by a
divine love, a holy presence, a peace, that passes all
The Very Reverend Sam Candler
Heaven is Where We are Remembered
The Church, Which is His Body
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