When it Is Hard to Be Thankful

Giving grace at the Thanksgiving dinnerOn Facebook, a couple of my friends have been posting daily entries as part of November "Be Thankful" Month. I'll admit that I skip right past those—not because I have anything against them—I'm just not a Chicken Soup for the Soul kind of guy. πŸ™‚

There is much to be said for the practice though, and not just in November. Especially when life is troublesome, it's easy to forget all the blessings we have and focus on that day's, that week's, that month's, or that year's problems. I remember from when I was "trained" to pray (by Mormon missionaries of all things)…that you start off with "Heavenly Father"…immediately thank God for X, Y, and Z…and only then ask for things (of course closing with, "In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.").

And although I don't think there is a fixed form for "correct" prayer, I do think it best that we first slow down and thank Him for everything He has so generously (and undeservedly) granted us. Augie seems to have this down, always starting off his bedtime prayer by thanking our Lord for a "good day" and school and whatever he can remember (followed by a, "Did I forget anything?" to mom and dad). He really does appreciate the simple things in life, and his prayers to "Heavenwy Fahder" reflect it.

However, as this holiday season arrived, I've had multiple friends and acquaintances lose someone close to them, even unexpectedly. On Thanksgiving, of all days, we are supposed to be thankful…but I can imagine that…surrounded by the pain and tears of loss…it may have been very difficult for them to have a very thankful Thanksgiving.

As for me, although it is nothing compared to the death of a loved one, less than a week out from the holiday I lost my job (apparently without severance), lost my house of nine years (we had to short sell it), had to do a large move mostly by myself, had a very sick five year-old (and an under-the-weather wife)…

Well, you get the picture. My list isn't meant to be a pity party…but in some measure I understand how the toils and troubles of life can complicate having a thankful heart. Even the clearest blessings (for example, looking at the smiling face of a happy, bouncy son) can actually be painful (as I think about the dwindling bank account, wondering how he'll be affected if the worst happens).

I'm depressing myself even writing about it. πŸ™‚

Yet, as a Christian I know that the Bible is wise and authoritative in all it says:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:18-21, English Standard Version, emphasis mine).

"Always" is an absolute word. It doesn't say, "giving thanks sometimes" or "giving thanks when things are good" or "giving thanks most of the time"…

It says that we should "[give] thanks always and for everything."

And for everything?! You mean, even for the trouble I am going through?!

Now, I don't want to over-analyze those words in Ephesians…but I personally know from experience that sometimes what is best for us seems quite the opposite while we are going through it. As hard as it is to believe in the middle of trials…

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

Additionally, the amazing thing is that somehow our Lord does that even when we are actively throwing monkey wrenches into our own lives. Perhaps that is why Paul also wrote:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19, emphasis mine).

Give thanks in all circumstances?! Doesn't God know how bad things are right now?!

Yes, He does…and He cares. That is why Peter tells you that you should "[cast] all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7).

Think about that. God cares for you! This isn't some inconsequential person whose only interest in you is what you can do for him or her, this is the Creator of the heavens and the earth!

And He cares for you.

And speaking of anxieties, Peter's words remind me of some others from Paul:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:4-7, emphasis mine).

I'll be upfront. I am still anxious about my present situation and not as thankful as I should be. But I am like the father of the boy with the unclean spirit:

And Jesus said to him, "Β 'If you can'! All things are possible for one who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, "I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:23-24)

Lord, I am thankful; help me with my unthankfulness!

Jesus cares about my circumstances. The Father does too. Trust me, I have so much to be thankful for (including many who are reading these words), but what more can I be thankful for than a God who cares?

I can't think of anything. :-)

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