For a recent homeschool assignment, I asked my kids to write a letter to Santa. I figured this was a win-win: They get to ask for presents, and I get them to practice their writing in the process. Well, I didn’t specifically say that the assignment was to write a letter to Santa to tell him what you wanted for Christmas. I simply said, “Write a letter to Santa.” To my surprise, my 6-year-old daughter wrote a thank-you note. She said, “Thank you for giving me presents.” Now this could just be her sneaky way of getting out of writing more words that she doesn’t know how to spell, but I think there may be something deeper going on.

I thought about what she was thanking Santa for: She may be thanking Santa for gifts he’s given in the past, but I guarantee none of my kids could tell you what Santa gave them in previous years. She may be thanking him for being a good gift-giver or for generosity in general. But more likely, she is thanking him for the gifts he will bring this year. In other words, gifts she has not yet received. This kind of thankfulness takes trust. She doesn’t know if Santa will bring her the best gift ever this year, or if it’s going to be … um, socks? Still, she thanks him in advance.

This reminds me of our thankfulness to God. When I thank God, I think of the multitude of gifts he has given, both the ones I remember and the ones that I don’t. But if I left it at that, this kind of thankfulness would be incomplete. It is an exchange: You gave me this, and so I thank you. But the kind of thankfulness that my daughter shows in her note is a kind of pre-thanking. Thank you for what you will do. And whereas Santa’s gifts may not be too dependable (because it’s actually her flaky mom doing the giving), God’s gifts are as good as given — that’s how dependable they are. When he promises something, it is done, and so we can thank him as if the gifts are already ours.

The Sunday School memory verse at our church this past month was, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever” (Psalm 136, and lots of other places in the Bible!). Why do we “give thanks to the LORD”? Because of his good and loving character and for his promise of a future with him. This thankfulness is born out of a relationship that has a past, present, and future. We look back at history and in our own lives and see God’s faithfulness. We see that he is good today and always. And we trust in his promise of a future that endures forever.

This year has been one in which thankfulness might not be our first reaction. As much as we try to focus on the positive and be thankful for what we have, our thankfulness is circumstantial. Sickness, isolation, restriction, social unrest, boredom, and fear unfortunately overpower positive thinking. But the beauty of thankfulness for hope in the future is that it is possible (and maybe even easier) to have in the midst of suffering.

Paul tells the Romans that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom 8:18). Suffering can feel overbearing and lonely, but Paul points out that all of creation is groaning in eager expectation of adoption and redemption of our bodies (vv. 22-23). It is in this glorious end, which we can’t even imagine, that we place our hope. Paul continues, “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (vv. 24-25). I love the confusion of tenses in this section. Hope is for the future, but in this we were saved. It’s as if the past, present, and future all meld into one hope in Christ.

And so, as we wait patiently for the Savior this Advent season, we remember that the hope we have is a certain hope which has already been accomplished in Jesus. Thank the Lord for the assurance of his promises. May we have the hope of a 6-year-old who is thankful for Christmas gifts not yet unwrapped.