For many members of these United States, Thanksgiving is about the four F’s: Faith, Family, Food, and Football. Interestingly, each component of Thanksgiving lends itself to prayer. Our faith leads us to share a prayer of gratitude to God for our families and for the abundance of food. In many homes each member around the table will express the ways in which they’ve been blessed prior to partaking in the feast. And this prayerfulness does not end when the television is turned on to watch the football game. A touchdown is often accompanied by a finger pointing to the heavens as a thanks for, apparently, God-given success on the field. After the game, when a star player is interviewed, the first words out of his mouth are often an expression of gratitude toward God.
This year, for me, Thanksgiving felt like a five-day festival. Wednesday night I led a small congregation in a Thanksgiving Eve service. We sang to God and shared with Him and each other many of the ways in which God had blessed us over the past year. It was easy to find some Psalms to help us consider some of our blessings (we used Psalms 92 and 107). Thursday afternoon my wife (Katie) and I were able to host her side of the family for our Thanksgiving Day meal in our new home! Friday morning we (along with our 4-month old daughter Kenzie) made our way safely eight hours to Pennsylvania to visit family. We were able to spend Saturday and Sunday with loved ones as we ate meal after meal of delicious leftovers and watched plenty of football. Throughout the week, many prayers of thanks were offered to God. Even now, as I reflect on the above, I am overwhelmed with thankfulness.
Soon after our arrival back in New York Monday evening, I turned the radio on to find them still talking about faith and football, but with a strange and apparently uncomfortable twist. It seemed that a wide receiver for my favorite team (the Buffalo Bills) had blamed God for his poor performance on Sunday. He had dropped what would have been a game winning catch in overtime and, shortly thereafter, left the following message on his online Twitter account: “I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO...”
Local radio was abuzz Monday evening with reaction. One sports sociologist, in a radio interview, said of the wide receiver, “He's blaming God. And the fact he's blaming God is beyond the scope. That is frightening. Granted, he may have been saying that out of immediate anger and sadness, but he needs help," When quotes from the interview were posted on the radio stations’ website, a lay comment read, “If you have a relationship with anyone, including God, you have your ups and downs. This was a down day for Steve [the wide receiver] but it proves to me he has a healthy relationship with the Lord.” As I turned off the radio, I found myself wondering who was right. Was the sports sociologist right in insisting that this was a serious sign of psychological problems and that the wide receiver needed help? Or was the lay person correct in saying that the Twitter message was a sign of a healthy relationship with God? Could they both be right to some degree?
Certainly there are issues of greater importance than the result of a football game. The above controversy got me thinking about my Thanksgiving weekend. I had so much to be thankful for (a great family, material blessings, safe travels, etc) and I had expressed this gratefulness to God. But what hadn’t I said to God? Throughout the weekend I had been receiving updates from my mother regarding my one-year-old nephew Lijah. He was in the hospital fighting pneumonia and was in very rough shape. I had prayed a number of times for improved health, but I had resisted expressing any anger of frustration with God for allowing such a small child to go through such an ordeal. It didn’t seem fair, but it also didn’t feel right to vent such feelings to God.
I'm currently teaching on the Psalms, and if they have anything to say on the subject (and I think they do...), then they teach us to pray no matter what our moods and feelings. The Psalms are filled with complaints/laments. I really enjoyed some writing from John Goldingay on this subject, he said,
“The presence of these prayers in the Psalter indicates at least that God gives permission for them to be prayed. What he then does with them is his business; though we may grant that ours, in our better moments, is to recognize that these are not the profoundest moments in the Psalter (except in the sense that, in their own paradoxical way, they point towards the cross to which such human realities pushed God), and that, while they may be uttered, they may then need to be repented of.”