Give thanks no matter what? Really? What if you really don’t want to be thankful? I get that. I’m thinking you do too. Giving thanks is not always pretty. Not always easy. Not always convenient. But it’s Thanksgiving week, doesn’t that mean you routinely count your blessings like all the millions of other Americans?
To Give Thanks Is Not Always Pretty
One of my favorite Thanksgiving decorations encountered the teeth of my puppy two years ago. Now when I look at this charming Give Thanks art piece, I smile. Giving thanks is not always pretty. Sure, thankfulness feels charming, beautiful, and oh so idyllic when life appears rosy and picture-perfect, but what about when you’re coming through the death of a loved one, you’ve lost your job, your grown child won’t talk to you anymore, and the love is hissing out of your marriage? (No, I’m not looking to write a country song.) J
Surely, we’re not expected to give thanks for the painfully cruddy stuff in our life? Well, actually, I decided to research that and went to my top literary source: the Bible. Turns out God uses the words thanks, thanksgiving, and thankfulhundreds of times in His writings to us. Here are a few heaven-sent directives on being thankful:
“… giving thanks for all things ….” Ephesians 5:20
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6
“In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Thanks for ALL things. In EVERYTHING. Remaining thankful isn’t just something that happens this side of heaven. Revelation 4:9 reports that angel-like creatures in heaven “give glory and honor and thanksto Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever.” Maintaining a thankful heart is not designed to fade from our lives.
To Give Thanks Is Not Always Easy
Even though thanks, thankful, and thanksgivingappear broadly throughout the Old and New Testaments, I wanted to know under what circumstances. Does God dictate that we give thanks for the bad and the ugly? Does He keep a checklist if we don’t offer up gratitude for everything? You know, when the toilet overflows and guests are arriving any minute? When your bank account is overdrawn? When your spouse needs emergency surgery? When your child vomits all over the car’s backseat? I’m sure you could write up a lengthy list of the stressors, setbacks, and sorrowful situations in your own life just this past week.
But give thanks for that list? Really? Yep. Why? Well, because God says so, but wait, it’s also for our own good. He knows that left to our own self-centered ways we would just take our blessings in everyday life for granted. We would take credit for the good and the stupendous. We would boast about our abilities and our planning. Instead, our Creator nudges us to remember that ultimately Heis the one who gives us life and the ability to enjoy wonderful gifts on this earth. He even wants us to know that in the terrible times, when our hearts are bending until they feel like they will break, He is still a good God who can be trusted.
To Give Thanks Is Not Always Convenient
Giving thanks when we don’t feel thankful reveals the beauty of thanksgiving. We give. We give back our thanks and gratitude regardless of our emotions. Regardless of convenience. And often, thankfulness comes with tears. We grieve over a loved one who has passed, yet we are grateful for all they mean to us and all they did to enrich our lives. Some of us lament over unrelenting pain in our bodies, yet we can whisper gratefulness for being alive and being loved.
Ann Voskamp, in her New York Timesbestseller One Thousand Gifts, invites us all to give thanks in this day for the life we already have and not the life that we think God is holding back from us. Years ago, the hog farmer’s wife and writer began a daily practice of chronicling all the tiny to triumphant blessings in each day, even through the muck and yuk. I do this as I close my day and snuggle into bed. I go back through my day and recount at least five encounters with people or situations that I can be thankful about. Often, I easily exceed the five.
Ann writes in One Thousand Gifts,
I see through the woods of the world: God is always good and I am always loved. God is always good and I am always loved. . . . Jesus, at the Last Supper, showed us to transfigure all things—take the pain that is given, give thanks for it, and transform it into joy that fulfills all emptiness. I have glimpsed it: . . . The hard discipline to lean into the ugly and whisper thanks to transfigure it into beauty. The hard discipline to give thanks for all things at all times because He is all good. The hard discipline to number the griefs as grace. . . .
This Thanksgiving week you may find yourself exceptionally grateful. Or, maybe you are practicing the “harddiscipline to lean into the ugly and whisper thanks to transfigure it into beauty.” I think the whispers of a learning-to-be-thankful heart stir God to smile about you even more.