Giving Thanks When It’s Hard

“Before we eat, let’s all go around and say something we’re thankful for.” If your family is anything like mine, this might have been a part of your Thanksgiving celebration at some point. Or as Thanksgiving approached maybe your church, also like mine, asked people to say something they’re thankful for during the Sunday morning sharing time.  As children, our answers often ran along the vein of family, friends, a house, food or other obvious and effortless things. As we get older, perhaps we’ve tried upgrading to more mature or spiritual-sounding answers such as good health, salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ, relationship with God, a wonderful church family, etc. These are all great things to be thankful for, but what about the things that aren’t quite so warm and fuzzy? In this season of giving thanks, what do we do with the parts of our lives that are rough and painful?

Thankfulness in Scripture

If you read very many Radi-Call articles, you might be thinking that this is the part where I say we should look to Scripture and see what it tells us. If you were thinking this then you would be right. I’m nothing if not predictable. So what does Scripture say? 

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17

“Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” Psalm 106:1 [1]

These are just a few of the many verses about thankfulness. The Bible has a lot to say about when and for what we give thanks. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 Paul goes so far as to say that we should “give thanks in all circumstances.”  That sounds simple and concise, but how do we actually do it?

When Life Gets Real

I’m going to be honest. This is a difficult subject to write about without sounding cliche or belittling very real pain. Some of this might sound like the same old lines that you’ve heard a thousand times. ‘Praising God in the storm.’ ‘Mercies in disguise.’ ‘When life gives you lemons.’ You know the stuff. Although what I have to say may sound worn out,  I really do mean it. I don’t want to minimize the deep, agonizing pain many of you have experienced or are still experiencing. Life is real, it hurts, and it’s not as easy as I might make it sound.

I’m kind of a silver-lining person, so I might not be the best person to write on this subject. I don’t have all these wise, well-thought-out ideas on being thankful in every circumstance. I just don’t like being sad or suffering for no reason. So if I can find something to be thankful for in hard situations, then I don’t have to be so sad. Or if I can find a blessing in the midst of suffering, then my pain doesn’t feel pointless. I can accept hardship much better if I feel like there is some good in it somewhere.

But, it’s not actually always that easy to be thankful during the hard stuff. I don’t really like dealing with pain. I don’t want people I love to die. I don’t enjoy it when life doesn’t work out the way I planned. I’m not ecstatic that after 27 years of living there are STILL areas of life that I’m just really bad at. It would be much nicer if stuff could just work out and I could always be happy.

Deeper Roots

However, difficult though it may be, I’ve found that a lot of the hard things in my life were the very things I have the most reason to be thankful for. I know this sounds cliche, but much of my spiritual growth has come through struggle and pain. Those months of frustration, when something just isn’t working the way I want it to and I wonder if I’ll ever get life figured out, those are the times when I’m learning and growing. 

The hard stuff makes me realize that I’m not the strong, smart, life-expert that I thought I was. I tend to be pretty self-reliant, to think I can figure everything out if I just try hard enough. But I can’t. When problems come along and remind me of that, I’m suddenly forced to trust God and depend on Him instead of myself. As a result, my relationship with Him gets much deeper and stronger, and that’s something I am definitely thankful for.

God is Good, All the Time

Being grateful in the hard times also helps remind us of who God is. We all say that God is good and faithful, and it’s not too hard to believe that when everything is going good, but do we still believe that when things get hard?  No matter what your circumstances may be, God is always good. Not like ‘cool’ good. Like ‘there is nothing bad or mediocre or less than absolutely perfect’ good. And “His steadfast love endures forever!”[2]

Often when we look back on hard times and see a little more of the picture, we can see God’s goodness in our lives. When we’re not right in the midst of difficulty it’s much easier to see ways that God was working through that difficulty. But when we can give thanks while we’re still in the middle of the pain, when we can’t understand what God is doing or feel His goodness, it helps us to remember and believe that God really is absolutely good and loving, even now.

Count Your Blessings

So this week as we are preparing our turkeys and stomachs to be stuffed, let’s also think about the stuff we’re thankful for. And not just the things that sound good during sharing time at church or on a trendy wooden sign in your living room. Think about the hard stuff in your life. Look for ways to be thankful for the things that aren’t as easy or obvious. As you count your blessings, don’t forget to count the ones that came through pain. And like Paul said, “give thanks in all circumstances.” For God is our Good Father, and that will never change!

Carmen Carmen Yoder lives in New Paris, Indiana. She works part-time at a cafe, where she enjoys making messes (which she cleans) and chatting with “the regulars.” Her spare time is usually spent reading, entertaining her siblings, adventuring, drinking coffee, or criticizing [she means proofreading] Radi-Call articles. She loves beauty, especially that of God’s creation, different cultures, fellowship, music, and laughter. She desires to live life to the fullest and serve God in any way He calls her.

 

  1. The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2007, 2011.
  2. Psalm 106:1. The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2007, 2011.

 

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