Thanksgiving is around the corner and some of my Facebook friends have started their annual countdowns. Starting November 1, for every day leading up to Thanksgiving, they state something for which they are grateful. Reading their encouraging posts stirs my own heart to gratitude to God.
For my own part, I can’t seem to stop telling God “thank You” for protecting my son through Hurricane Sandy last week and for bringing him home to Colorado—miraculously, it seemed—to celebrate his birthday, as planned months ago. (Last week’s post, “Selfish Prayers?” gives the background to that story, in case you missed it.) Saying “thank You” to Him for answering those prayers comes naturally and joyfully. And I can imagine Him smiling when He sees how happy I am because of what He did for me.
Saying “thank you” deepens our relationships with others—both with people and with God. When we express gratitude to friends and family for the kind and generous things they do and give, we deepen our relationships with them. It’s no different with God—hearing our thanks makes His heart glad.
But here’s the zinger—God wants us to give thanks “in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, emphasis added). Anyone can be grateful for sweetness and light—but who thinks to say thanks for the ugly, uncomfortable, difficult, or painful things He allows to come our way?
In her New York Times bestseller, One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voscamp talks about awakening to “the strange truth that all new life comes out of the dark places.” She suggests that “the hard discipline [is] to lean into the ugly and whisper thanks to transform it into beauty . . . to give thanks for all things at all times because He is all good.”
I’ve tried saying “thank You” for hard stuff when my heart wasn’t in it. That doesn’t work for me. It feels mechanical and disingenuous. And I’m just not one to boot-lick or apple-polish. If I’m going to say “thank You,” then I need to mean it from my heart—I can’t do it just because I’m supposed to or because I want to act spiritual or curry favor.
I’m learning that thanking God for the hard things is a consummate act of love and trust. To be able to sincerely thank Him for dreams dashed, relationships broken, and hopes deferred is to believe—really, really believe—that He works all things together for my good. It means believing in my heart of hearts that He is completely good, kind, and loving. That He never makes mistakes and never acts unjustly. That He lives in me and is wiser and more powerful than the one who lives in the world. That He guards me as the apple of His eye and loves me more than the sparrows He so carefully keeps track of.
I’m not there yet. But as I look back over the hard things He has allowed into my life, I find more and more that I can say “thank You” in hindsight, at least. He has brought much good to me through those difficult experiences. So now, as I think about various disappointments, concerns, frustrations, and fears—the unwelcome intrusions into my life—I am more willing to believe that maybe, just maybe, God will transform them into grace gifts, too. So, Abba, please give me a thankful and trusting heart to believe that You truly are good—all the time—and that these situations I never would have chosen and never would have thought to call “good” are in fact things You are using to transform me and cause me to grow deeper in love with You.