Thanksgiving: Just the word evokes an idealized family gathering where everyone is holding hands and in perfect health, with fully-funded bank accounts, blissful marriages, and children who are always cheerful and obedient.
Now that’s a far cry from reality isn’t it?
No one’s real Thanksgiving gathering looks like this. Ever.
Yet we’ve somehow convinced ourselves that in order for unreserved thanks giving to occur (no matter the time of year), this idealized picture must be present.
We’ve bought the lie that our ability to give thanks should be based on how close our life matches this perfect image.
But what if giving thanks is possible in the here and now–in the midst of marital difficulties, cancer diagnoses, wayward children and empty wallets?
What if God is calling us to search for more on Thanksgiving–to discover a deeper life that is truly able to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) …and he’s using these adversities to bring us there?
What if he’s allowing our tragedies to to say, “Walk with me and let me show you a lasting contentment and thankfulness that cannot be shaken”?
This is the “giving thanks” I believe God calls us to discover this time of year.
In fact, it’s often through the tears that we can see the testimony to the thanksgiving.
Redefining “Giving Thanks”
In Christian circles, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 is an oft-quoted scripture, especially this time of year: “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”
Let that thought sit there for a minute. All circumstances? All the time? Really, God? You want me to say “thank you” if my child is suffering from a debilitating illness or if my husband one day decides to have an affair?
Well, perhaps we need to redefine our definition of what thankfulness is.
Giving thanks doesn’t necessarily mean that that we’re saying we believe the situation is perfect and that’s why we’re thankful.
In fact, giving thanks doesn’t even have to mean that we’re happy about the situation or that we like it at all.
Thankfulness can simply be an offering: a hope and a faith put in a promise yet to be fulfilled. It’s a faith in believing God’s truth that “all situations work together for those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
It’s persevering through the pain because we trust Him and believe in the promise, like the example given of many who have gone before us (Hebrews 11).
Thankfulness recognizes that it doesn’t have to be exactly how I want it for me to say “amen.”
Instead, the act of giving thanks acknowledges–sometimes with tears–that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be good.
How Am I Supposed to Be Giving Thanks Through This?
I’m like you–sometimes life’s difficulties make it nearly impossible to “see the thanks.” Truth be told, my wretched heart’s natural bent is to wallow in my misery, complain about the injustices and rail against the painful parts.
The last thing I want to do is to “give thanks for all things” as 1 Thessalonians 5:18 encourages me to do.
It’s during these times when the Holy Spirit steps in. In a gentle voice, he reminds me of those who walk beside me and who have gone before me (Hebrews 11; Hebrews 12:1-3) so that I don’t lose heart.
I think of the biblical story of Job–a man who watched his whole world collapse as his livelihood and family were taken from him–who still said, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15).
I think of Horatio Spafford–a modern day version of Job–who was able to pen the powerful hymn “It Is Well With My Soul” after the death of his daughters and the loss of his entire fortune.
I think of the friends whom I’ve watched succumb to horrible illnesses–wonderful men and women who were bright lights in this world–who overcame their tragic circumstances by choosing to say “God, please allow me to discover ways to give you the thanks for all aspects of this unspeakably awful part of my journey and let my life be a testimony to your faithfulness.”
I think of the thousands of Christians worldwide who right now are suffering extreme persecution, and the hundreds who, today, will willingly choose to give up their life before giving up their faith in God.
And I think of my Lord–the God-man beaten to a pulp, pinned to two splinter-filled planks of wood, and humiliatingly displayed before the entire city–who underwent such physical and emotional torture for no other reason than to say, “My darling daughter, this is what I’m willing to endure so that you and I can be in relationship together.”
Reflecting on these people and circumstances doesn’t change the difficulty of my own situation; but it changes my perception of it and opens the door to authentic thanksgiving.
4 Steps to Authentically Giving Thanks
If you’re finding it difficult to give authentic thanksgiving right now, first of all know that it’s OK.
We place an added shame on ourselves when we know we should be doing something (especially something that is right and good and that is encouraged because of a national holiday) and yet we don’t feel the emotion of thankfulness.
Acknowledge. Can I first encourage us to admit to these emotions? Can we be real enough with ourselves to see these places of inauthenticity and choose to desire something more?
Discover. Next, let’s do a little digging. Let’s write down everything about the situation and let those real emotions flow–even if they are painful to feel. We’ve got to be honest about all aspects of the circumstances so that we can identify the areas to bring healing.
Reflect. What are the areas here that are pleasant and easy? And which are unenjoyable and difficult? Most important of all, consider which aspects of the situation are blessings. Note that something doesn’t have to feel pleasant to be a blessing.Where have you seen God provide, bring hope, offer encouragement–even in this trial? And where do you see room for God to do even more miraculous things? Look to these as the starting point for that flow of authentic thanksgiving to occur.
Ask. Come face to face with those things that are gut-wrenching, unfair and challenging and ask for Him to bring you a different perspective. Ask for the supernatural ability to choose to be thankful during this trial, trusting that only He can provide the endurance and encouragement through the pain.
Search, dig, look for the authentic thanksgiving today. It may be tear-stained, covered by anger or drenched in frustration, and that’s alright.
Give every part of it as an offering to God, asking Him to give you the power to rise above the ugliness of the situation to discover the blessing.
Just like a pearl that is formed inside a oyster’s shell as a result of the oyster’s irritation by a grain of sand, great blessings are often released through acceptance and authentic thanksgiving.
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