It was Thanksgiving, and I did not feel thankful. Everyone kept asking, “What lessons have you learned from loss?” Stumped by these honest inquiries, I knew I should be able to find something to be thankful for, but my heart was void of it.
During those days, holidays were not the most wonderful time of the year, and neither were the other days, weeks, and months after the death of my husband. Life was hard, very hard. When others asked these innocent questions, I, too, asked myself about the unknown. I knew God could, but would He use our suffering for our good and his glory? Would I ever be able to see “the goodness of God in the land of the living?”
Choosing to be thankful
I had prayed, and it seemed that God did not answer. It seemed that I could build a list of so many reasons to not be thankful in the midst of such a hard loss. But, I chose, sometimes imperfectly, to trust and be thankful; these lyrics by Eddie Carswell were the song of my heart, “God is too wise to be mistaken. God is too good to be unkind. So, when you don’t understand, when you don’t see His plan, when you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart.”
Even in hardship, I found that practicing thankfulness and trusting God’s heart would be our lifeline for the holiday season. On the hard days, I looked for gratitude in the mundane, things like grace, the helping hand of my community, and the presence of Christ over loneliness and death.
“Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 118:29 ESV).
Back then, life was difficult, and my eight little ones were hurting deeply. They wanted Daddy…I did too. Physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion was the norm. So, right then and there, tired as can be, I chose to be thankful for grace, moment by moment, knowing I didn’t have to do it all or be perfect. And when I felt like I couldn’t do it all myself, which I often couldn’t, I knew I had the body of Christ covering us and holding us together until God brought some healing.
“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers” (1 Thessalonians 1:2 ESV).
And on the nights when I especially felt the sting of the loneliness from widowhood and single parenting, I chose to welcome the presence of Christ into our home. I trusted He would do as He promised, be the defender of the widow and father of the fatherless (Psalm 68:5). Being alone and processing the pain of physical and emotional betrayal (grief from suicide was all-consuming) was hard and tested my ability to find thankfulness in my heart. Everywhere I looked, it felt like the enemy had claimed victory. But I knew all too well that Satan doesn’t get the final word in our suffering. He doesn’t win the war. As a family, we would choose to acknowledge the absence of Daddy and double down on the acknowledgment of the presence of God with us!
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you” (Isaiah 43:2 NASB).
Yes, the holidays were overwhelming. Navigating new triggers and traditions required skills that I did not yet possess. But we found that thanking God for the peace that comes when our mind is stayed on Him became our foundation.
“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3 ESV).
The old hymn, Count Your Many Blessings, gives us a great challenge to consider:
“Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, ev’ry doubt will fly,
and you will be singing as the days go by.
Count your blessings, name them one by one.
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one.
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done” (Baptist Hymnal, 1991)
Fostering an attitude of gratitude
A lack of giving thanks turns the focus to self. Thanks-giving is not a feeling, not about our circumstances, and definitely not always easy. But, over the years, I learned that giving thanks is an act of worship to God and that it is a choice. God calls us to be thankful in all circumstances because He knows that it will help us to get the right perspective, to focus on what God is doing in us and in others. And, we find that when we foster an attitude of thankfulness, healing comes as an overflow.
Having a hard time fostering an attitude of gratitude? I don’t blame you; it’s hard to start, so here are 12 Thanksgiving prompts to get you in the spirit!
- Thank God that He is good even when our perception of good differs.
- Thank God that joy comes in the morning.
- Thank God for peace that surpasses understanding.
- Thank God for what we cannot see.
- Thank God that all things work together for the good to those who love him.
- Thank God for the gift of eternal life through the blood of Jesus Christ.
- Thank God for who He is.
- Thank God for what is to come.
- Thank God for His comfort.
- Thank God for hope.
- Thank God that He is with us in the valley.
- Thank God that He restores our soul.
My biggest thanks was that those seasons of not feeling thankful did not define me or last forever. Choosing gratitude was worth the struggle. God has been good, oh so good to me!
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NASB).