I am thankful. So so thankful.
I truly have so much to be thankful for this year. There are still some challenges - adjusting to a new city, trying to make friends, missing my family and friends in Mississippi, YET this year, more than any other year I can remember, has been a year of blessing, joy, redemption and restoration. Not only have I been blessed, but I have been blessed after waiting! I have received good things from the Father and also was able to witness his faithfulness in answering prayers.
I have a sweet godly loving husband. I have an amazing family and great friends. The Lord provided housing and jobs here in DC. I have a sister and brother in law and the world's cutest nephew who live near by, so there aren't too many lonely weeks in between family visits. I married into a great new family whom I love. I am living in one of my favorite cities! After what seemed like a few rough years for my family, everyone is happy and healthy and doing well at the moment.
And, by the grace of God, I've had many seasons of thanksgiving that have come easilly -- full of obvious blessings and lots of gratefulness.
But I've had plenty of years where it was a lot harder to make that yearly "thankful" list. Sure, I could make a list of the ways that the Lord had provided-- shelter, food, education, family-- the Lord has always cared for and provided in some way!! BUT it felt that many circumstances in my life were painful and many of the doors I longed to be opened were closed. There were thanksgivings where my family was facing hardships and trials that seemed daunting. There were holidays with breakups, law finals, unhappy job situations, loneliness.
And, I know this isn't unique to me. If you are human and live long enough, there wil likely be rough years where your heart fights to be grateful despite discouraging and challenging circumstances. There will be years when your many blessings are overshadowed by marriage problems, singleness, sickness, times of waiting, economic loss, job struggles, parenting stress and the list goes on an on.
Even in rough times, we are told to be thankful in all circumstances (See 1 Thessalonians 5:18) But, it's easy to think that grattitude and thankfulness always looks the same. As a chipper blissful newlywed bursting with praise and gratefulness for answered prayers and God's provision, my thankfulness is probably going to look differently than someone trudging through the midst of their hardest life battle yet. And as someone who has been the latter before, instead of the former, let me encourage you not to assign a "one size fits all" mentality to how one should be thankful. Your friend may be less vocal and chipper about her gratitude, but may be working twice as hard as you are to be thankful. Nothing is more frustrating than striving to be thankful and being made to feel that your version of "thankfulness" isn't correct.
Here are some things I have learned about thankfulness in all circumstances:
***keep in mind, I am not a biblical scholar, these are just my own personal observations
(1) Thankfulness during tough times takes work and choice and therefore, (2) thankfulness during rough seasons may look differently than normal joyful gratitude and praise.
The holidays during my first year of law school were rough....still recovering from a broken engagement, surviving a new place and new stresses and the hardest year of law school and that first round of finals! I can remember a few happy moments -- family, friends, church, etc. But I also remember being so emotionally exhausted and trying to cope with the fact that just a year before, my holidays were so joyful and the new year was full of promise and blessing.
Being thankful was hard and it took choice. And I didn't always make that choice....and when I did, it didn't even always look like thankfulness in a traditional sense. I can remember giving myself a certain amount of time to "nap" on both Thanksgiving and Christmas day during my first year of law school -- which wasn't really a time of sleeping, but a time of rest away from other people -- where I was able to mourn, recover and pray. My prayers included not anly prayers of thanks, but a prayer that the Lord could help me be thankful. I didn't feel like being thankful. When I was thankful (and as I said, I wasn't always thankful), it was an act of obedience and trust.
Being thankful when life is hard looks different than it does it full happy times. Thankfulness when life is hard isn't all smiles and joyfulness and beaming about how your cup runneth over. It's singing praise songs through tears. Its thanking God and listing blessings even when you don't feel thankful. It's trusting that God will reveal His goodness to you - both through His provisions and through His comfort.
(3) Thankfulness during tough times requires a literal counting (and enjoying) of blessings.
Literally, count your blessings. Even those in the worst of circumstances have some blessings. When I was in law school, I celebrated the fact that over the holidays, my mother would barely make me do anything during my first week home over the break. Seriously, Law school is so tough and I was so fragile that she seemed to let me enjoy most of my two weeks off. As a single, I tried to celebrate the blessing of free time and travel, volunteer, form amazing friendships.
Make a list of just a few things you are grateful for -- and not only thank God, but enjoy those blessings as well because we are suppsoed to enjoy His gifts! You may not have the blessings you want, but you do likely have some blessings, make a list and write it down if you need to...and when you feel discouraged, remind yourself of those few blessings -- and enjoy those blessings!
(4) Thankfulness in tough times focuses on God's character, not His answers.
As I stated above, I am super thankful right now -- for my hubby, starting our life together, etc. It's one of those times where my cup is overflowing! I truly am thankful that the Lord is faithful and good, but honestly, I am also thankful for the provisions. Nothing is wrong with thankfulness for God's gifts because we should be thankful, but one thing I noticed during rough times was that I tended to be thankful for attributes of God more than gifts from God.
I was thankful that God was a comforter. I was thankful that God was faithful. I was thankful that God was a redeemer and restorer. I was thankful that God was in control.
Trust me, I love His gifts, but I am grateful He used rough times to teach me (painfully teach me which required constantly reteaching stubborn ole me) the blessings of who God is! That is something that those who are struggling know in a more intimate real way than other people do. Learning thankfulness when life sucks reminds us of God's good, kind, gracious, loving character. We learn that his answers or witholdings may be hard, but his character is good. And for that, we can be thankful!!
(5) Thankfulness during tough times requires remembering God's previous provisions and faithfulness.
If you are going through hard times at the moment and finding it difficult to be thankful, remember God's past graciousness to you. This becomes a bit easier the older you get. As I age (gracefully, I hope!), I have more years in my past than I used to. I have more to look back on and see the Lord's provision and blessings. I also can see how He sustained me through dark times and restored brokeness.
If life is tough at the moment, look back -- at your own life and the lives of other believers! God has brought you through rough waters before - and He will bring you through rough waters again. God has answered in the past and he can and will answer again. Being thankful for God's past work and presence helps cultivate a current sense of thanfulness in the present.
(6) Thankfulness during difficult times requires a focus on restoration and redemption.
As you struggle to be thankful now amidst broken painful circumstances, it may be hard to see that you could ever be thankful for those circumstances. The good news is that even the most awful situtations can be restored and redeemed by the Savior. Be thankful for the fact that you serve a Lord who can salvage your situation and who will restore your brokeness. As I stated above, a look to the past will remind us that the Lord doesn't leave us where we currently are, He restores and salvages and heals. He brings beauty for ashes. As you pray for that restoration, thank God for what He will do to bring healing, growth, opportunity and restoration from your struggles.
(7) Thankfulness when life is painful is a strong witness to others and can point them to the gospel.
It's as simple as this. We live in a fallen painful world with sickness, heartbreak, trials and sin. We hurt others and they hurt us. We suffer from our sins and choices and sometimes, we suffer simply because we are citizens of this world. Our Savior loved us so much that He sufffered so we could live eternally with Him. That is something to rejoice and be thankful in. No matter what pain we face or will face, we are not stuck on this earth forever. We have a home to go to where all sad things will become untrue.
When we choose thankfulness despite our circumstances, even if its hard and fought for, we are a witness to others. Others may wonder how we are thankful in rough situations. We will have the opportunity to speak of the hope we have in the gospel and of a Father who is good in bad circumstances.
I've been there. I've had to fight for thankfulness when life wasn't so easy. I've also had many happy years where life was so full. Although in many ways, I much more enjoy the easier years where thanks fulls off my toungue easilly (who wouldn't?), there is so much sweetness and blessing that comes through painful thanksgiving. Obedience and thankfulness reaps blessing and hope, I am convinced....and the relationship growth with your Savior during these times cannot be duplicated.
So, I'm thankful today -- thankful for my many many blessings, thankful that the Lord that is faithful and restores, thankful for growth through tough times and yes, even thankful for the years that its hard to be thankful!