Sherry came into my office quietly, sat down next to my desk, and stared at the floor. I knew enough to keep my mouth shut—sometimes when I do some of my best counseling! After what seemed to be a long time, she said, almost inaudibly, “I’ve been used.”
I waited silently. After another quiet time, still staring at the floor, her story began to spill out. Four years ago, in 8th grade, she had been raped by her cousin at a family summer pool party while she was getting into her swim suit.
Sherry had been a student of mine in a couple of classes over the years. Now as a senior she was in a course in which we were talking about marriage and future relationships. She said she knew from the class that she had to get some things cleared up because of the way they were affecting her now and would affect her later relationships.
She was an attractive and popular high school senior who had never accepted an invitation from a guy to go out—even in group activities. She was terrified of boys. She had not slept one night without waking up to nightmares since that 8th grade horror at her cousin’s house.
Thanksgiving and Hope
Sherry was looking for hope and much more. Hope was what I thought the Great Physician and Wonderful Counselor would want as a starting point. So, after she opened her heart and fears to me, I asked her to turn to Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” She read it and said, “I’ve done this for four years! I’ve asked the Lord to take this away from me every day, but he hasn’t!”
I asked her if she knew that I cared for her. She said she did; that’s why she had come to me. She had never told any of this to anyone else.
I said, “I’m going to ask you to think about something in this verse that could sound really insensitive, but trust me, ok? I do care for you greatly, and there is something here for you. There is something else in this verse besides prayer. Read it again.” She read it again.
“Thanksgiving?” she asked.
“Yes, but not thanksgiving for your cousin’s evil. There is no excuse for that. It was wicked and evil. Instead, the thanksgiving is for the fact that you have a Father who takes even the wickedness of people and uses it for good. He’s in charge of the evil plans of people, and He always uses them for the good of His children.” She knew Romans 8:28, but its comfort had eluded her.
“Remember how God used the evil plans of people to bring about the crucifixion of Jesus? Remember how He used that wicked act for the salvation of all His people? Their evil was followed up by the resurrection and the gospel of life for the world.
“Your cousin meant it for evil—but God meant it for good. (She remembered the story of Joseph in Genesis 50.) He who is good will use it for good in your life now and in the future. He makes resurrection real for you now—as he did in Jesus’ life and (figuratively speaking) in Joseph’s life.”
Not a Mantra
Philippians is speaking of being grateful for the fact that God is greater than any wickedness against us, any threat toward us, or any uncertainty about our future. He provides for this grateful attitude through the cross (Romans 8:32) for all His people, for all time, for every circumstance. Thanksgiving is not a formula or mantra with magical powers. It is humble submission to His good, wise purpose. In Psalm 50, God rebuked His people for being focused on ritual obedience and yet missing the heart of worship and obedience. Then He said, “Offer to God [i.e. to Elohim, the sovereign, powerful One-in-charge] a sacrifice of thanksgiving and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (vv. 14, 15). He’s the One who puts a life together; He is the One who fixes a life when it breaks, and so He is the One who we seek with thanksgiving.
Sherry needed to “call upon” Him with a spirit of thanksgiving so that the “rest” that Jesus offers to “troubled” people who come to Him would be hers (Mt. 11:28, 29). Thanksgiving was a beginning place for her to “come” to Him. It was a starting place for her to look for help, because it oriented her toward a loving, caring, controlling, purposeful, and good Father.
Philippians 4:6 isn’t a band-aid simply to cover a deep hurt. Sometimes it is treated like a formula or “easy” solution to deeply troubling anxiety. However, Paul’s counsel is radical surgery when the character of God is brought to the forefront and when submission to His wise and good decree is where one’s hurt takes him or her. Then the “peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard [their] hearts and [their] minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). There is great assurance here for troubled people who crave “rest.”
I Could Give God a Great Big Hug
I urged Sherry to go home, kneel by her bed, and read Philippians 4:6-7. Then, if she thought they applied in the way we discussed, I urged her to thank God for His goodness, His purpose in her life, and His “bigness” over all the evil her cousin had done to her.
The next morning she was standing at my door when I got to school, bubbly and almost jumping up and down with excitement. “Dr. Horne, I did what you said, and I slept last night all the way through, for the first time in four years.”
We continued to talk regularly over the next month to unravel other features of this evil influence in her life. In the spring she accepted an invitation from a guy to go to a senior event—her first date.
On the Monday morning after the outing, I found a folded note under my door when I got to my office. “The time on Friday night was great. I could go up and give God a great big hug. He has taken something from me that I never thought would leave.”
Thanksgiving is for Thanksgiving—The Radical Kind
This short story is not intended to be a model for counseling; nor is it a picture of all that is needed for counseling people with such trauma in their past. But it does illustrate how thanksgiving is a powerful tool in God’s arsenal of weapons for our fight against the sin that comes out of us and that comes at us.
Thanksgiving is radical surgery—heart surgery as God intends it. It opens the door for our wonderful Father to deliver someone “in the day of trouble.” It opens the door for a “peace that surpasses” this world’s so called “common sense.” This kind of thanksgiving is an antidote for anxiety, fear, uncertainty, trauma, hate, and betrayal. God is good! May our Father use this Thanksgiving season to unpack His goodness and increase our “peace” with this radical surgery!