Your fingers hurt as you pull back the string, keeping your eye on the fletching. Your arm wants to shake as it pulls against the tightness of the string. You move your focus down the shaft, linger on the arrow head, then center on the yellow circle in the distance. Breathe, and-
Holidays can be difficult times for me. I love the comfort and quiet they can bring, the moments of warm, soft reflection in the midst of all that goes on day to day. Sometimes, however, that peace can be far more elusive on the special days than it is in the midst of the deadlines and the daily grind. If left unprotected, it is peace easily lost and disappointment readily gained.
How often does Thanksgiving cross the calendar this way? Expectations run high, and when we come to the familiar “What are we thankful for?” it can be so much easier to think, Well, I would be thankful, if…
The Bible shows us holidays in a way that is different than we are used to thinking. Instead of days off to do what we want in the hopes that we will feel better at work after, Biblical holidays were days of training. When the Lord established the Sabbath day, the foundation of all holidays for His people, in Deuteronomy chapter five, this is what He said:
You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day.
When life gets busy, we have to make a conscious effort to keep from drifting off with our moods, stresses, and fears. That effort can be something that seems to add to the burden of our to-do list rather than lightening it. Because we are used to the hope of resting recharging our emotions on holidays, training sounds exhausting and intimidating, but God designed holidays to be training in joy. Joy is not a spontaneous feeling like happiness. Even at our lowest points of fear and sorrow, joy can be ours if we are used to exercising the right muscles.
This is where I come to thinking of thanksgiving as a weapon. It can be so hard to be thankful. It really isn’t something that comes to us naturally. When we first feel the weapon in our hands, it is so alien that we hardly know how to handle it. We know how it is supposed to work, but surely it is meant for other people to use. People who are “talented” in the realm of thankfulness.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, we can feel our fingers scream when we first pull back that tight string. Our muscles tremble within us as we struggle to keep the bow steady and pulled back tight. We miss the target, then again, then again. It is a struggle to hit the bull’s-eye of joy, but we must learn to think like Leah. Leah could have been tossed about mercilessly by her circumstances. Her husband loved her sister more than he loved her. God blessed her with three sons, but even still, she was lonely amidst her blessings. Finally, she made a choice: “This time, I will praise the Lord.” And her fourth son Judah became the forefather of our precious Jesus Christ.
This time—whatever the time may be—will you praise the Lord? Think of the bow as His faithfulness. It is solid and true, but sometimes hard to grasp at first. We know its strength, but how could we ever be able to approach it? If we try on our own, we will never be able to get the arrows on the string, but Holy Spirit helps us the draw the strength of the unfamiliar string. Devote time to training. Set aside pieces of the day, especially the holidays, to learn of His faithfulness, and to practice putting your trust in Him. Remember that in the same chapter as the command to keep a Sabbath, Moses shared with the people:
The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive here today.
The Lord’s faithfulness is something He gives to you. It is not loaned to you by permission from someone else. It is what God Himself has given directly to you. Don’t be afraid to interact with His faithfulness in your own life, no matter the situation.
I think of the arrows as truth. Circumstances and emotions can toss us back and forth; in the midst of that, there are solid truths to which we can still cling. Maybe they don’t seem very significant at the time, often they won’t be enough to rocket us from the doldrums straight to cloud nine, but sometimes just a little piece of something that is really, honestly true is enough to give us a hint of joy. Again, we know these truths better the more time we spend in the Word and in prayer. If we devote time to memorizing the Word, it is like we get used to reaching for the quiver without even having to think of where to find it.
God is faithful. Here are the truths. Draw the string, aim for the center of His presence: joy lives there. Hold steady. Remember, thanksgiving is a choice.
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
~1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
In everything. It sounds an awful lot like training, doesn’t it? We still have some time before Thanksgiving Day comes. Take the time to learn the tools. It is a hard thing for the enemy to stand against a truly thankful heart.
This time I will praise the Lord.