Q. We traditionally celebrate Thanksgiving Day dinner with every family member expressing their gratitude about the year. This year, however, we have had many problems - job losses, deaths in the family, and accidents. How can we be thankful in the midst of all these troubles?
A. Giving thanks in the midst of troubles or tragedy is a challenge. Many would consider it impossible or even irrational. Grieving is normal and essential to work through disappointments and losses. Tears and some depression are normal at these times. However, we can focus on grief and depression too much. We do this when we forget to count our blessings.
The apostle Paul, who suffered beatings, shipwrecks, and even imprisonment wrote, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11). He didn’t say he was content about his circumstances but in his circumstances.
Joni Eareckson Tada was paralyzed as the result of a diving accident in her teens. She used the Bible verse “Give thanks in all circumstances” (I Thessalonians ) as her anchor. She says, “I gritted my teeth, pushed aside feelings of despair, and willfully gave thanks for everything from the hospital breakfast of cold cornmeal mush to the grueling hours of daily physical therapy.”
When she began this she didn’t feel thankful. She notes the difference between feeling thankful and giving thanks. Feeling thankful involves our emotions. Giving thanks is an act of the will. The Bible verse doesn’t expect us to give thanks for the difficult times. We only need to give thanks in them. Joni Eareckson Tada says that months later a miracle occurred. She began to feel thankful. Her despair lifted and her attitude brightened.
While attending a niece’s wedding years ago I took a serious fall which pushed two teeth up in my mouth and caused five stitches worth of damage to my upper lip. Though this was minor in comparison to the experiences of Joni Eareckson Tada or the writer of today’s letter, I found myself giving thanks that I was not knocked out, broke no bones, and was able to attend the wedding later the same day. I was very upset about what had happened to me but still thankful in many ways.
Sarah Ban Breathnach in her book Simple Abundance recommends keeping a Gratitude Journal in which we write down five things we’re grateful for each day. Doing this on a daily basis for several months will change us. A gratitude journal helps us notice the small caring gestures of friends and family members. And we then thank them more. Thanking others for being in our life and for the things they do for us enhances our marriage and our family life as well as changing us, and making us contented.
A gratitude journal will help you see that even in the midst of trouble or pain, there is this, this and this going well in your life. It will also help you recognize what the difficulty or tragedy has taught you.
David, who wrote most of the Psalms in the Bible, wrote about his despairing inner struggles yet he also was grateful for every blessing. He very humanly describes his struggles, even wondering if God has abandoned him, yet he continues to practice gratitude.
When things go well we take our blessings for granted. Difficulties force us to recognize what’s important in life; that we need God and that we need each other. Gratitude helps us grow spiritually. It connects us with God, the source of our life and our hope.
Give thanks on Thanksgiving Day in spite of your troubles. A gratitude journal will help you learn to be contented in any situation and Thanksgiving Day is a perfect time to begin one. Have a blessed and thankful Thanksgiving!
“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18