Are We Thankful Yet?

How can I be thankful when my life is so messed up and difficult?

Somewhere in the deep, dark recesses of my heart, I cringe when people ask what I am thankful for. The bitter truth is that there are times when I don’t feel thankful at all; times when I am too busy being down on my self, my life, my kids, my husband, and those same five pounds that I lose over and over again – the ones that never seem to disappear. Even when my “poor me” pity party comes to an end, it’s not like life’s problems magically disappear and I am suddenly happy and at peace because all is right in my little corner of the world.

The process of wrestling my spirit into submission and choosing an attitude of gratitude in the midst of real life circumstances often begins with that still small voice in my head (or is it my heart) whispering a gentle reminder of something for which I am thankful. I work really hard to reject the thought and put it out of my mind so I can hang on to the fear, worry, anger, frustration, and disappointment to which I desperately cling.

I feel myself slipping when the words from James 1:2 flash onto the big screen plasma display in my mind, “Consider it all joy, my brothers (and sisters), when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” I can’t believe they made me memorize Bible verses in Sunday School – I’m trying to feel sorry for myself here!

The list of things for which I am thankful begins to grow – two cell phones, two computers, two cars, and a home with a guest house (and great renters). Then I remember those five pounds and realize I’ve never gone to bed hungry (not even close).

The list starts to multiply exponentially to include things for which I am truly grateful – a loving husband and family and a circle of close friends who love and accept me as I am. The pace picks up and the list expands - nature, beauty, adventure, health, provision, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, discipline, purpose, meaning, and fulfillment. Suddenly, in spite of my best efforts to the contrary, I am humbled and overcome with a deep sense of gratitude.

How can I not be thankful even when life is so messed up and difficult?

After years of repeating this ridiculous cycle of resisting God’s Spirit as he drags me kicking and screaming into a state of thankfulness, I have learned an important lesson. Here it is. I don’t have to wait until I feel thankful to be thankful. An attitude of gratitude is not something that happens to me. It’s a moment by moment choice.

Choosing a grateful heart sensitizes me to the needs of others and strengthens my faith. I can choose to be thankful, not just for the good stuff, but for everything God allows into my life – including the relational struggles and difficult circumstances he uses to shape and grow me. I can choose to be grateful for a loving heavenly father who walks with me through the dark and difficult seasons of life and promises to never leave or forsake me.

That being said, it’s hard to thank God when life seems to be spinning out of control – when I’m doubting God’s sovereignty (how could he allow this to happen), questioning his wisdom (doesn’t he know this is important), or wondering if he is paying attention (has he forgotten me completely). This point is the crux of the issue – the fulcrum upon which the entire existence of faith in God balances.

In spite of how I feel, I can choose to have faith in the fact that God is sovereign and wise and good. By faith, I can choose to trust his promises and believe that he loves me – then (and only then) I can choose to be thankful.

By God’s grace I am no longer waiting for an unexpected measure of gratitude. I am choosing day by day, moment by moment to proactively adopt an attitude of gratitude. I invite you to join me.

Here’s to a Happy (and gratitude-filled) Thanksgiving.


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