This week as we are preparing for Thanksgiving, our hearts and minds reflect on what we have to be thankful for. But I have to be honest. Sometimes it feels too hard to be thankful for anything. All we can think of are things we’re not grateful for. Perhaps you’ve lost your job and can’t find another one. Or you’ve learned you have a terminal diagnosis and you are fighting for just one more holiday with your family. Or, you have significant marital or family hurts that make holiday times dreadful, not happy.
For a long time as a Christian counselor I struggled to encourage my clients to apply the biblical command to give thanks in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18). How could I help a young woman give thanks when she is seething with anger that her father sexually abused her or some other equally horrific story?
Recently I met a woman who was in the midst of a tragic story. Her only child was killed in a motorcycle accident yet in the midst of her grief she was thankful. She said, “I can’t be thankful for all things, but I am learning that I can be thankful in all things.” She continued, “I can be thankful that my son died doing something he loved, I am thankful for so many wonderful friends who have helped me through this. I’m thankful I will see him in heaven one day.”
The psalmist said, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord” (Psalm 92:2). When we don’t feel thankful, practicing gratitude as an act of obedience, pleases God. Practicing gratitude helped this woman through her grief in a much more positive way than had she not practiced it.
Even if you can’t find anything obvious to be grateful for during this Thanksgiving season, intentionally look for the little things you can be grateful for in the midst of your difficult circumstances. Isaiah reminds us that God will give us treasures hidden in the darkness—secret riches. He will do this so that you may know that He is the Lord, the God of Israel who calls you by name. (Isaiah 45:3)
Sonja Lyubomirsky, a secular psychologist and the author of the book, The How of Happiness, writes, “Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, a neutralizer of envy, avarice, hostility, worry, and irritation.”
There are many people who continually feel negative and miserable in life. They grumble and complain that life, God, or other people don’t give them all the things they feel they need or deserve. When we get caught in this entitlement mindset, it only breeds more discontent and unhappiness.
You can break free from these negative emotions by choosing to practicing gratitude. To find the good hidden in the bad, the blessings even in the hardship. You can choose to practice gratitude even if you don’t feel like it, even if you find it difficult to do so. In your act of obedience, God will lift you up.