Scrolling through Facebook just now, I saw a photo of a beautiful autumnal scene shared by my sister-in-law. Brightly colored leaves and plump pumpkins are scattered all over social media, so it was not the picture which caught my attention. It was the simple words. With the picture was the phrase, “There is always, always something to be thankful for.” In the past, I might have mentally nodded and kept scrolling, but today I had a moment of slight rebellion. In a few days, Mom and I will experience our first Thanksgiving without Dad and, honestly, I have been dreading it. Excited as I am to see my family (maybe even more so than ever before), I admit that I am afraid of the pain. Being with my aunts, uncles, and cousins without Dad’s laugh reverberating through the air is scary to me.
When I read, “There is always, always something to be thankful for,” my emotional response was, “That’s true, but I don’t feel like being thankful right now. It is hard to be thankful when I miss my dad so much that it hurts.” And, you know what? I do not feel guilty for my mixed emotions. Grief is a journey and we are at the beginning. Some days we will struggle more to be thankful than others, and that is okay – as long as we do not allow ourselves to stay frozen in those moments.
Sometimes, we need to cry out some pain so we can see the rainbow on the other side of the storm.
Sometimes, we need to reach out to someone for a hug and a listening ear so we can remember all the beautiful gifts God has given us.
Sometimes, we need to say, “God, I am not okay, but I know you are with me and for that I am thankful.”
Sometimes, we need to step away from the crowd, take off the mask for a few minutes, and listen to music.
Sometimes, we need to ask those we love to remind us of reasons to be thankful.
Some Thanksgivings (and Christmases and New Year’s and birthdays) are harder to face than others and that is okay. When we are not feeling thankful is when we most need to choose to be thankful. These are the moments when we need to stop, pray, and declare five reasons – no matter how small or silly – we are thankful.
“God, thank you for the heat in our home, the beautiful tree in our backyard which blooms every April, the dinner in my stomach, the children who make me laugh, and my favorite pair of unicorn socks.”
When we are actively grateful, our spirits lighten. If we refuse to find reasons to be thankful, bitterness will eat us alive. If appreciation is not in us, cynicism will fill the void.
Heather, didn’t you just tell us that it’s okay to struggle with being thankful? Yes, I said it and I meant it. When those moments of struggle grip me, I do not feel ashamed of the sadness and questions with which I wrestle, only because I know grief is complicated and unpredictable, and that in a short time my gratitude will return.
Underneath it all, I know I am thankful even when my emotions are fickle. God has made His grace too real to me throughout my life for me not to be grateful, even when my gratitude is less than obvious. Life has shown me that even in the darkest times, God always highlights His blessings to us. If we look for them, we find them. If we choose to hide from them, we miss them.
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3, ESV)
Two of the greatest weapons against falling into a bitter, chronically discouraged place are God’s Word and friends. When I force myself to open the Bible and read, my mind is filled with truth; and, that truth trickles down into my heart. (Sometimes, it is a matter of forcing. Christians don’t always feel like reading the Bible just as we don’t always feel like praying – but we are never sorry when we do.) The truth brings freedom (cf. John 8:32).
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8, ESV)
I am so thankful for God’s Word. Where would we be without it?
And, friends… throughout the last few months, I know I would have slipped deeper into despair without the love and support of dear friends. Some friends texted encouraging words. Others came to my Dad’s service even though they had to rearrange their schedules and travel. Even now, we receive messages out of the blue saying, “We are still praying for you.” What a blessing!
God has favored me with the kind of friends I can text and say, “You know what? I’m just not okay today,” and they go straight to the Lord on my behalf. Some friends are just great at listening. They may not have much to say, but I know they care; and, I know I can dump my ever-changing emotions on them at any time. One of the first declarations God made was that it is not good for man to be alone. (cf. Genesis 2:18) Though the context was that of Adam needing a helpmeet, I believe it also clearly demonstrates that people need people. When we want to push them away the most is when we need them the most.
So, I am also deeply thankful for my friends. I don’t know what I would’ve done without them.
Even if I cannot think of another reason to give thanks this year, I know I am thankful for God’s living, breathing Word, and for my dear friends who He uses to show me grace upon grace. And, it goes without saying, but Eric and Mom, though my closest family, are also two of my dearest friends.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12, ESV)
For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. (John 1:16, ESV)
Are You Both Committed to Thankfulness?
Marriage has taught me more lessons than I can count, but one which definitely sticks out is the importance of demonstrating thankfulness. If you have a grateful heart, it will flow into your marriage. A man or woman who spends time thanking God each day will be less inclined to come home and hurl endless complaints and criticisms at his or her spouse and family. Everyone wants to be appreciated. We may prefer to receive appreciation in different ways (e.g., words vs. actions vs. gifts vs. time vs. touch), but we all want to know our partners are grateful for us.
Are You Thankful for your Creed Notebook?
Your beliefs about the importance of giving thanks will matter a lot to your future marriage. Look through these questions and have a pre-Thanksgiving date/chat with your significant other about the answers. Most of us would say, “Yes, it is good to be thankful,” but how many of us live a life of thanksgiving? I am certainly guilty of illuminating the depressing and concealing the positive at times.
- When I am feeling down, where do I typically turn for relief?
- When someone does something kind for me, is it easy or difficult to show appreciation?
- On a scale from 1-10 (1 being it is like pulling teeth for me to say thank you and 10 being it is like breathing for me to say thank you, where do you place yourself?)
- If not verbally, how do you show your thankfulness/appreciation to others?
- Do I typically surround myself with positive people?
- If yes, how do they affect my outlook on life?
- If not, can I feel negative effects from my relationships?
- Have I ever experienced seasons of depression?
- Have I ever taken medication for depression?
- Have I ever seen a psychiatrist, pastor, or a counselor regarding depression?
- During those seasons, have I found focusing on why I am thankful to be helpful?
- Based on my current lifestyle, am I living a life of thanksgiving or a life of negativity?
- If I am leading a pessimistic life, do I wish to change?
- If so, what are five steps I can take to stop focusing on the negative in my life and start highlighting the positive? (list them)
- What part does God’s Word play in shaping my perspective?
- Am I reading and studying the Bible on a regular basis? (How often is “regular”?)
- What differences do I notice in my heart and mind when I read the Bible and pray?
- How important is it to me for my future spouse to demonstrate thanksgiving as a way of life?
What Does the Bible Say?
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! (I Chronicles 16:34, ESV)
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)
Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Who can utter the mighty deeds of the Lord, or declare all his praise? (Psalm 106: 1-2, ESV)
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. (Psalm 107:1-3, ESV)
Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. (Psalm 95:1-3, ESV)
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 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 3:15-17, ESV)
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. (Philippians 1:3-5, ESV)
When you think of your partner, thank God for him or her. When the years hang heavy on your heart and you wonder what you ever saw in him or her, start thanking God for specific attributes of your sweetheart. Before long, the feelings will return.
Your Creeds Can Keep Developing
If you did not add something about thankfulness or choosing to show gratefulness in your personal and/or couple’s creeds, consider making an update. As hard as it is to show gratitude when your heart is broken or when you are experiencing another disappointment, gratitude is essential to keeping your life free of resentment and emotional bondage.
Praise the Lord is a song I grew up hearing in my home church. As a child, it inspired me, but it means so much more to me now. When I am tempted to wallow in a dark place, it reminds me to take my mind off the struggle and to praise the One who has already won the battle. Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus is another awesome song which helps me shift my focus away from the problem and onto our Savior. If you are struggling to feel thankful, or you just need some encouragement, take a few minutes and listen to these two classics.
To our American friends, have a Happy Thanksgiving and drink in the memories. To our international friends, we hope you will find reasons to be thankful each day. Much love to you all!!!
Trade your expectations for appreciation and your whole world changes in an instant. – Tony Robbins
As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. – John F. Kennedy
The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention. – Oscar Wilde
How will you remember to give thanks when you don’t feel like it?