Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving in a World of Hurt

No one likes being left out of a party. There’s nothing quite as stinging as those times when you are so close to a celebration that you can smell the food, hear the laughter, and feel the vibrations of the music yet, you never received the invitation and you’ve been left to fend for yourself. But what about the times when you have received an invitation, are in the midst of partying heartily and suddenly notice a face in the window, full of sadness from having be left out, that looks in on your enjoyment with a pain you can’t ignore and quickly disappears into the darkness outside? How can you celebrate when you know someone else is hurting? This situation is a pale reflection of what I feel this Thanksgiving, knowing that people I deeply love and care about – my family and compatriots in the Philippines – are experiencing much suffering as we here enter a season to remember and celebrate comparative abundance, well-being and blessing. I also struggle with the needs of which I am aware close to home, where many struggle and have little material wherewithal within their grasps and are truly immersed in a time of hardship. How can I prepare a feast, when so many are suffering and barely able to eat? Am I being calloused? Do I really care? These thoughts are part of the great struggle of seeking to understand and combat the problems of evil and suffering in a world created by a God the Bible presents to us as supremely and completely good. It is proper to wrestle with this problem. Nevertheless, what is even more important, is what we do with our inner struggle. There is a concept of mature Christian faith that has always resonated with me and that I believe addresses the questions and problems like the one with which I am wrestling and that has given me a meaningful way to engage these issues. The concept is this: When you find that you have been blessed when others appear to have been abandoned, realize that you have been blessed to be a blessing, and that you are duty bound to share those blessings with as many who are hurting as is possible. I have found this principle to be a powerful vehicle for good in every arena from academia where those who had strengths in certain areas, shared their knowledge and know-how with others who were not a prodigiously blessed as they, as well as in desperate places steeped in poverty and want, where individuals and groups who were mightily blessed with money, education, determination, connections and compassion, used all those resources to address the immediate and long-term needs of the people they knew were in extreme situations of deprivation and despair. I have learned that there is no intrinsic sin in being blessed with material wealth, educational depth or powerful political connections. The challenge lies in how one uses such powerful blessings in one’s day to day life and how one uses them in the face in devastating tragedy and neediness. The Scripture says, “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.” For those of us who have received much, let us celebrate what we have been given, because it is appropriate to be glad and to give thanks. However, let us also commit ourselves to use our blessings to be blessings for those who are struggling and who are not in a position to celebrate, knowing that while we are supposed to give thanks, we are also charged to mourn with those who mourn and to comfort those who suffer with the comfort we ourselves have received. Will this approach solve all the world’s ills? No. But in this season we dedicate ourselves to giving thanks, I am compelled to level this challenge to you and to myself. My message is to stop lamenting what you can’t do or what isn’t being done and to do what you can. Mother Teresa is reported to have said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed one.” Luz and I can’t feed a million people, but the Lord has given us the resources and connections to feed a few thousand. You may be able to do more or less. Put a dollar in a bucket. Buy some shoes for someone who needs it. Share a meal or make a meal. Build a school or help a school that is doing work you know needs to be done. Hug someone who hasn’t been hugged in a long time, if ever. Thank someone who served and now no one seems to care. Give a big gift for that project that needs just a bit of a boost to make a huge impact. Support someone who is dreaming of doing great things for others but just needs someone who has a little pocket change to believe it them. It won’t solve every problem, but it will reduce the overall problem by the extent you have helped, which is movement in the right direction! I ask you simply to be thankful for what you have, consider the needs you know about both near and far, figure out how helpful your blessings allow you to be and act on it! Now is the time to give thanks and to stop cursing the darkness! Celebrate and be thankful! Celebrate and be helpful! Light your candle and help light up the world! You’ve been blessed now BE a blessing! Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Your Brother, Sam.

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