Every November, scores of Americans turn into heralds of thankfulness. The call to give thanks shows up in our advertisements, our social media feeds, our decor, and it fills our minds.
Every year, many hearts struggle for the weight of grief, or loss, or separation, or some other form of pain and destruction. Circumstances bear hard on a heart which longs to be whole with the rest of the world.
Thankfulness is less likely when emptiness feels stronger than fullness. We must choose to speak to the barren crevices of our heart with the overflow that comes from God’s heart for us.
What we don’t have sometimes speaks louder than what we do, and it takes intentional effort to choose thankfulness anyway. Because there is always, always something to be thankful for. We have a God is who is better than we can imagine and our pain on earth will be washed away completely when we rejoice in heaven with Him.
The effort to give thanks in hard times is holy work, setting believers apart from the world. When we point to a God who is better than any earthly desire. Even when our situation looks bleak, we remind our hearts that there is more to life than what we see now.
Not Every Season is Delightful
As a child, November and December were notorious months of illness. Pneumonia visited me often. Flu and colds were known companions. I spent more than one Thanksgiving ill and a few Christmases awfully weak, but only once was I too weak to take an early morning peak.
Two decades ago, I moved away from MN and planted my feet in TX as a single mom. These holiday months were lonely the first couple of years. No family near. No friends dear. My oldest son and I were invited to the family gathering of a co-worker for Thanksgiving. I’d never celebrated with Hispanics before and I didn’t know what to expect. I got acceptance. As if I was there all along.
In 2012, my husband and I moved to a ranch owned by a foster agency. What we knew of normal American life flipped upside down. We tried to make the holidays special with the kids we cared for. Our church friends decided to do so as well. Several drove an hour, even an hour-and-a -half, to join our craziness. They accepted us all. White, Hispanic, biracial, tired, angry, sad, stressed, and wild. Quite the crew.
We received a much needed dishwasher through the gift of a friend and someone who worked for Lowes, because in addition to two often malfunctioning laundry appliances, our dishwasher joined in the fun. Daddy D tried fixing it several times, but it was stubborn. Fifteen people meant multiple dishwashers a day. I’m.thankful for the gift of hands.
In 2013, we left the ranch and eleven people filled our small home. What we knew of normal flipped upside down again. Only this time it didn’t flip right side up. I showed signs of PTSD. Grief and depression anchored me. By the end of the year our home was reduced to four people, but that fall and the coming fall seasons each year afterwards would know even less. My husband and I separated multiple times.
They say wounded people wound people and I’d say it’s pretty darn true. Trauma begets trauma without the hard work of healing. Healed people heal people too and the best healing that works this way is the kind the Father initiates through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Shifting Seasons and Tested Hearts
Once upon a time, the holidays meant our home filled with people. If others weren’t in ours, we would show up in theirs. In the last four years, it wasn’t always “us” together and it broke me in ways I never wanted to experience. Yet, hope compels me, even as what I put my hope in was severely tested. The kind of hope that lasts had to rise to the surface.
Could I be thankful when life broke? Would I give thanks when God didn’t fix things the way I wanted?
Sobbing became all too normal and my heart was pressed to decide, to choose what kind of hope would carry me through.
Hope in my way. Or His. Hope in fixed circumstances or hope fixed on a God beyond circumstances.
I could hold on to my source of hope, true Hope himself. Jesus. And give up on the kind of hope continually deferred, the kind which makes the heart sick. (Proverbs 13:12) This hope looks with earthly eyes. It refuses to face reality for what it is, because the pain of giving up on the preferred outcome seems unbearable. The truth is, this kind of hope makes moving forward untenable. When we don’t accept hard things, we make life harder for ourselves.
Throughout the worst years of marital challenges, family upheavals, and stress overload, I would hear people tell me to give thanks. I wanted to punch the Apostle Paul for telling me to give thanks in all circumstances. (I Thessalonians 5:18) Sorry, but anger doesn’t usually produce right thinking.
I cringed during November because, darn it all, couldn’t others know how hard it is to be thankful when you’re hurting this deeply? Y’all go on ahead, I’ll just stay here because I can’t find the strength to smile with you.
God’s Word remains true no matter what our inner or outer world is like. God’s goodness remains the same regardless of how good we think we have it.
We can give thanks in all circumstances because the gift of thanks goes beyond here and now.
Uncommon Thanks and the Gift it Brings
I found ways to give thanks for things I didn’t want. Like grief, the pain of facing self insufficiency, and the inability to make things right.
As a result, I found a God who never left me. It sounds cliche’ to say so these days, but it’s true. When you’ve experienced it for yourself it’s hard to explain this kind of God presence. Don’t give up searching for it. He’s there.
I found a God who smiled and called me to enjoy Him because He took delight in me. It’s crazy y’all, to replace the image of a serene, sad, or severe Father God with one brighter than the sun, big enough to create and manage galaxies, involved enough to heal both physically and emotionally, and smiling. Sometimes with compassionate tenderness and sometimes with the call to play and enjoy Him more fully.
The gift of thanks through hard circumstances is a heart that receives God’s gifts for us. There is always more to see, more to love, more to know, more to receive. As we do, He fills us in ways indescribable. Sometimes, the process of transformation and letting go hurts a whole heck of a lot, but persevere my friend. God has so much for you.
The hard and holy gift of thanks keeps on giving as it transforms the way we’re living.
A thankful heart knows less bitterness and softer pain. It enters sacred places where self is sacrificed and God’s sacrifice becomes more meaningful. He delights in the sweet aroma offered heavenward.
The last four years marked transition for us. I’m thankful our family continues to heal, and that we’re doing so together. Not everyone gets this outcome, I know. If that’s you, my heart grieves with you. I know you are not alone, and I pray you know it too.
I don’t know what your future looks like and quite frankly, I don’t know mine either. We’ll all go through hard times more frequently than we’d like. I pray our hearts do not give up on real hope.
The hard and holy gift of thanks sculpts our hearts to receive more of God’s goodness. May you receive what God has for you today, no matter what you’ve been through, what you’re going through, and no matter what’s ahead of you.