Redefining Thankfulness

A reminder that tomorrow we will commit to praying and fasting for God to bring marriage to those of us who desire it, to strengthen both men and women in their personal and relational lives, and to bring change within our hearts, minds, and spirits. 

Another Thanksgiving weekend has come and gone.  For me this holiday includes a good dose of food and family, as well as a backgammon tournament so intense it comes with a trophy for each year’s winner.  (Granted the trophy is a dancing, stuffed turkey, but that’s beside the point).  While my family has it’s own share of dysfunction and challenge, overall it was a rich, full weekend that made it easy to be thankful and recognize God’s blessing.  I drove home after the brief time away with warm fuzzy feelings inside.

But when I sat down to write today (knowing I wanted to focus on the holiday), the first thing that came to mind wasn’t thankfulness, but what happens when life hurts, relationships end, loved ones are sick, when depression and anxiety creep in and suck any goodness away.  This morning I got a call from a friend whose beloved 12-year old Labrador retriever is at the end of her battle with cancer and will have to be put down this week.  Another friend is entering the holiday season after her mother’s unexpected death last spring, and yet another is facing divorce after only three years of marriage and instances of verbal and emotional abuse.  Hearing these stories did not exactly bring feelings of thankfulness.  Mostly I wanted to shake my fist at the world and demand that God put things right.

It is so easy to offer our praise and thanks to God when things are good in our lives, basically when we feel thankful.  But what I constantly have to remind myself of is that thankfulness isn’t simply a feeling that comes from good things happening.  It’s an orienting of the heart that, as we practice it, re-focuses our attention away from painful circumstances and back on Jesus, strengthening our awareness of His consistent presence which is necessary if we’re to endure the many things life throws at us on a regular basis.  It is indeed a practice, and one that might not initially match where our hearts are.  It can seem inauthentic, as though we’re denying our true feelings or suffering.

As is usually case, the way in which God calls us to follow Him is radically different than what feels natural in this world.  I can honestly say I never want to give thanks for the pain in my life.  And yet on the occasions I try, I notice that something very subtle shifts inside of me.  It’s like a small chasm of space opens up and gives God more room to take up residence with the pain and do the work in my life He’s after.  In these instances thankfulness takes on a very different definition, becoming an act of surrender, trust, and worship rather than simply a response to circumstances.

My hope for you this week and into the Christmas season is that thankfulness might take on new meaning.  That it will remain an offering of praise for God’s goodness, but also become an offering of trust and submission in times of trial.  And that in doing so, you will be transformed by the light of His peace and presence.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”  Psalm 118:1

“Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord.”  Psalm 89:15




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9 Responses to Redefining Thankfulness

  1. Pingback: Needs « sixbrownbears

  2. Katy says:

    I don’t know if this advice is “biblical” (so take it with a grain of salt) but it is practical, at least for me. Holidays are hard when you’re single (and I am sure they are sometimes hard when you are married too). In the past, I have let myself have an amount of time to mourn that so I can go on praising and thanking the rest of the day. Personally, on holidays, I may feel dissapointed that I don’t have a husband and kids, but part of my frustration is that I am not supposed to feel dissapointed, as if everyone expects you to be smiling and glad…so Last Christmas (and thanksgiving), I gave myself 30 min to an hour where I told everyone I was upstairs reading or napping. And I laid down, felt the dissapointment,even cried a bit, and prayed. I laid my hurts before God, requesting he’s comfort and provisions AND I confessed my lack of gratefulness.

    After that hour or less of personal time addressing my hurts, I was able to move on and be grateful, celebrating the holiday with family and friends and rejoicing in what I did have. Had I pushed my hurts aside, I would have struggled been grumpy and bitter all day. Its like you said, thankfulness is sometimes an act of trust, and bringing it all (the good and bad) before the Lord freed my heart and soul to trust and thank Him better that day.

    • fast. pray. says:

      Amen! The acceptance of our feelings is a crucial part of moving through them and letting them go. The practice of acceptance and release is a rhythm and process that we have to practice regularly. And I firmly believe that God is with us in that process, transforming us and strengthening us. Thank you for sharing this and for your encouragement. Blessings!
      – Kirsten

  3. halennox says:

    Love it! Thank you so much for this great post, as always. I love how the Bible refers to thanksgiving and praise as being a “sacrifice” at times. Truly, there are many days when happy thoughts of joy and thanksgiving for what the Lord is doing in my life (or not doing!!) do NOT come naturally. That’s when I need to surrender my will and offer thanksgiving to Him anyways. And honestly, it certainly feels like a sacrifice at times. Oddly enough, He often gives me peace and rest in those times. I like to think that He is honoured and glorified when I CHOOSE to be thankful rather than when I FEEL thankful. Sigh… Another thing I’m trying to work on!

    • fast. pray. says:

      Yes, it certainly can feel like a sacrifice. And yet (as I am always learning and re-learning), something powerful and transformative happens when we are able to focus away from our human nature and back to God, letting Him do His work. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Heather says:

    I had a likewise amazing Thanksgiving with a wonderful extended family. Likewise, too, I find it hard some days to be thankful for my many undeserved blessings, focusing instead on what I don’t have. Thanks for the challenge and the reminder to give thanks in all circumstances!

  5. Julia Gunter says:

    So good! Thank you

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