During this time of year, we Americans are reminded constantly to feel and show gratitude for all our many blessings. And, though I am an advocate for being appreciative of God’s goodness (He is good even when we do not recognize it), I find holidays bring up a familiar ache in my heart. Social media pictures of large families gathered around a Thanksgiving table send small darts into my heart, especially as the patriarch carves the turkey or sits in his recliner with a lap full of grandchildren. The “joy” of the season reminds me of my dad’s empty chair and the famous “kid’s table” my husband and I have never needed. To be honest, Thanksgiving is hard when your heart is broken or empty, and so many feel that way this time of year.
When I was younger, being thankful during Thanksgiving came more naturally because of my family everywhere and hope for the future (e.g., marriage, babies, a home, etc.). As I have aged and have not had children, I find giving thanks to be more of a discipline rather than an assumed practice. Giving thanks does not always burst forth effortlessly as it once did – and, that is okay. Sometimes in the moments of deep contemplation, when we ask, “Just what is there to be thankful for in this crazy world?”, the Holy Spirit whispers reminders to our hearts of why we should be thankful regardless of our personal circumstances. Our heartaches make us more aware of our need for Christ, and (hopefully) make us cling tighter to Him.
My aim with this post is not to make you sad just before Thanksgiving; but, to say that if you are struggling to feel grateful or if you feel alone while being bombarded with happy social media from others, it is okay to feel that way. There are many out there who can relate to what you are experiencing. However, dwelling on what we lack always leads down a dark path. We can acknowledge who we miss and what we miss, but then we need to intentionally press towards God and actively discover reasons to thank Him – and, there are many.
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14, ESV)
Occasionally, weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have. – John Piper
Embrace the Life You Have
How do you embrace the life you have? How do you move forward when you are weighed down by disappointment and heartache? There is not a single, easy answer to this, but the solution arrives a day at a time… sometimes arriving at a particular moment in time. Healing starts with one intentional step forward and leaning on God the whole way.
- Weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Some try their best to skip this step all together. I am strong. I will not let this hold me back. I am not a crier. But, skipping this step of grief does not remove the grief. Skipping the grieving only cloaks the grief; and, eventually, the grief shows up in other ways. You may not be a crier. Maybe you release grief by working out, talking to friends, journaling, praying, or spending time in nature. However you grieve, give yourself permission to say, “I am hurting and I am disappointed.”
- Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have. This is easier said than done but is still a necessary step. We need to process through our grief, but not build our home there. Verbally thanking God for all He has given you is one step out of the grief and into the embrace. God, thank you for my bed. Thank you for the oatmeal I had this morning. Thank you for the peaceful neighbors I have across the street. Even the smallest of blessings is worth acknowledging, and each show of gratitude is a step out of grieving and into the light.
- “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4, ESV) We must take our eyes off ourselves or we will always be miserable. The more self-focused or selfish we are, the more unhappy we will be. Along with thanking God for His blessings, we need to be a blessing to others, even if it is as small as rolling our elderly neighbor’s trash can up the driveway. Intentionally look for ways to bless other people. Create a blessings calendar if you need to remind yourself. Visit the lonely. Provide for those in need. Tip the restaurant waitstaff extra. Be the one who shows a smile and says thank you.
- Turn your eyes upon Jesus … look full in His wonderful face… and the things of earth will grow strangely dim … in the light of His glory and grace. As a young girl in church, I remember singing this song with my eyes shut tight and feeling the cares of the world melt as I focused my heart on my beautiful Savior. All these years later, the need to shut my eyes tight and focus on Christ is even more real now than it was then. Time spent at Jesus’ feet is never wasted.
A couple years ago when the Covid pandemic had recently arrived and most of us were locked in, I ran across this quote and it was like balm to my cracked heart:
Some healing never happens in this life. Some spouses are never found. Some children are never born. But when our king returns, He will make up for every great thing that never came. – Greg Morse
Some mornings after church, I slip out the door quietly because the sight and sound of dozens of babies and children rips another gash in my heart. God, when will I be okay? When will it stop hurting? When will the empty feeling subside? And, in these moments of grief, when I wonder if I will ever finally be okay, the Holy Spirit reminds me of these words: “But when our king returns, He will make up for every great thing that never came.”
This life is a vapor. The pain and deep disappointments we experience now are but a drop in the ocean to the eternal joy God has for His people. God’s Word is filled with reminders of what is to come for His children.
But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (I Corinthians 2:9, ESV)
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18, ESV)
Let the Pain Release
If this Thanksgiving season is bringing up some mixed feelings for you, or you simply feel numb, take some time to acknowledge your losses and disappointments. Cry out to God as you weep, hit a punching bag, or setting up camp miles into the forest. Let the pain release; then, wash your face. Thank God for specific blessings in your life and look for people to bless. Rinse and repeat.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (I Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV)
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. (Habakkuk 3:17-19a, ESV)
How will you remember to be intentionally thankful in the tough times?