Giving Thanks in The Gulag

Psalm 137:1-4 “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars, we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy….How can we sing the songs of the Lord in a foreign (strange) land.”

In his devotional, Charles Price, spoke about three kinds of thanksgiving: natural, unnatural and supernatural. Natural is being thankful for everything we have been blessed with. A roof over our head, clothes to wear, food to eat and the many provisions we enjoy in our lives each and every day that we could take for granted.

Unnatural thanksgiving would be giving thanks in troubling situations, not for them but in the spite of them. In illness, in the midst of a difficult relationship, a failing marriage or a lost job. Thankfulness in the midst of loneliness and uncertainty.

Supernatural thanksgiving was Jesus, knowing His death was imminent, giving thanks before distributing the bread and wine.  In 1Thess 3:18 Paul says, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you, in Christ Jesus.” In everything, when giving thanks to the Lord for His presence, provision and purpose, we discover within our hearts that sanctuary of peace found only in Christ Jesus. We, experience a God Who is present and active within us.

This is true worship. If I can do this, my heart becomes a sanctuary for Him to dwell in. Exodus 25:1-8 God tells Moses, “Tell the Israelites to bring Me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me, from each man whose heart prompts him to give…..Then have them make a sanctuary for Me and i will dwell among them.” Those whose hearts prompt them to give should bring an offering. Heart is important to worship.

So, I feel like giving thanks when I am well cared for but when I am missing something or longing for something that’s not there, thanksgiving is much harder. I have to remind myself that “in all things God is working and God is working in all things for my ultimate good.” That’s a lot harder!

What about the “gulag”, the prison of my circumstances? How can I begin to be thankful there? There are many people who are in real prisons. Asia Bibi was arrested and imprisoned in Pakistan, June 2009, for speaking about her faith to other ladies. She was 37 years old, a wife and the mother of two little girls. She’s still there and is under a death sentence.

In 2012 she told a VOM worker about a little brown bird that appeared two days after her death penalty was announced. It would come and sit on the boundary wall for 10 minutes in the morning and then again for 10 minutes in the evening. She saw this as a significant sign from God and she always felt encouraged and comforted after the bird’s visit. It gave her a feeling of peace. I try to put myself in her place. How can she give thanks there when her life is upside own?

Right now, my brother feels in impossible circumsances. He’s in one nursing home, waiting to go to a more permanent place for residential care. The place he’s in now is “bare bones” care; an old facility that is not well run. I go to visit him every day. I’m there for lunch to help him, I leave for a couple of hours to do business, then return in the afternoon with a sandwich from Hortons which we share. I am there to help him with his supper and then drive 40 to 45 minutes, back to my sister’s place. It’s not my home! It’s not where I want to be.

I would like to get my own place and move my belongings from my suite 400 miles away but there is no one to help my brother. He is in the early stages of dementia as well as having had a stroke which left him with a bad memory among other problems. He’s very discouraged. My sister does not always feel well enough to go and no one else feels the least bit obligated to visit him. Even his daughter has not seen him for over two weeks. He asks if I think she will come and bring the 4 children to visit again. I always say “yes.”

This is my prison, my gulag, if you will. I am not belittling the real gulag, it was much, much worse than anything I am going through. I know that there are probably people who would gladly trade circumstances with me because theirs are worse. But this is my own impossible situation, with no easy way out. This is circumstances that I would never have asked for. This is not life, it is existence. I’ve lived in dead end situations before with seemingly no way out so I should not be surprised. But I’ve never been this way before. Like the song says, “The road is long and there are many dangers.”

So back to my original focus, thankfulness in the gulag, this system that is not Russian or Korean or even political.  But it is a prison of sorts because it is a lack of freedom to choose my way. Maybe the secret is surrender to the will of God. When I pray and give my situation to Him, then I do not need to worry about it. The thankfulness is that feeling of complete trust in my Father Who will bring everything together in His perfect time. It’s not natural but unnatural and it takes work.


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