It’s easy to be thankful when everything is going our way, but it’s more necessary when everything is not.
Being thankful can be hard at times.
Thankful for What?
I mean, who feels thankful when you have stubbed your finger and the car has broken down for the third time in a month?
Who feels thankful when a family member is slowly dying from cancer or that friend you trusted so much betrayed you.
Where is thankfulness when the bills total more than the resources and the decision has to be made between groceries or gas?
The difficulty and necessity of thankfulness are made relevant when thankfulness is seemingly the last emotion we want to feel.
What Does Thankfulness Look Like?
Thankfulness is not supposed to be beautiful or clean.
It’s filled with tears and heartache. It cries out for answers to questions it doesn’t even know how to ask. It is a trait built on the souls of those who choose to reveal it and made apparent in times when it is least expected.
Thankfulness is not a feeling. It is both a burden and a relief, a hardship and a deliverance. It forces us to wrestle with ourselves in the attempt to see life differently than how it appears in the moment.
Scripture tells us to give thanks in all circumstances—even going as far as to say this is the will of God for us:
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Christians love to make thankfulness out to be some experiential destination that arrives freely for those whom God really likes. It comes wrapped up nicely with the “favor of God” and helps the Christian to see how much they are loved.
It shows up with job promotions, healing, advancement and the answers we wanted to our prayers.
In All Circumstances
This, however, is not thankfulness in all circumstances. It’s only thankfulness in the circumstances we feel the emotion of thankfulness.
You see, true thankfulness doesn’t rely on the emotion of circumstance it instead finds its hope in Christ and his word. It looks into the light and dark and counts all things as loss in the view of knowing Christ (Phil. 3:8)
Christ himself displayed this type of thankfulness when faced with the road to the cross.
“…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:2
Real Life Thankfulness
But how do we show this kind of thankfulness when faced with our own problems.
You might be saying, “Brandon, that’s great, I would love to be thankful in all circumstances but Jesus was Jesus and I’m nowhere near anything like him. I want to be, but I’m not fooling anyone—I know I’m not. I can’t be thankful for my trust being betrayed or my family member suffering. I can’t be thankful for the financial situation I’m in. This all sounds well and good but being thankful doesn’t solve my real problems and if it isn’t putting food on my table, gas in my car, or health into my family member, what good is it for me to try anyway?”
I get it.
Thankfulness is one of the last things we think about when we are suffering. I sure know for me it is.
God Doesn’t Expect Perfection
I don’t think God expects perfection out of us. He doesn’t expect us to get it right every single time. And, I sure don’t think he expects us to fake our emotions to look more “Christian.”
I think that is the beauty of thankfulness.
True thankfulness doesn’t remove the emotion of the moment from the situation. Be that an emotion of excitement over a promotion or the emotion of despair over cancer coming back in a loved one. We can be true to our feelings and still be thankful in both of these situations.
Being thankful doesn’t magically make the Christian happy about cancer.
Cancer sucks and faking an emotion like it doesn’t is not being a better Christian. But also experiencing the emotion of anger and frustration over the disease doesn’t make us less thankful that God is with us through it.
What Does Thankfulness Look Like?
Thankfulness is not about getting or not getting a result, it is about realigning ourselves to trust in God.
Thankfulness doesn’t remove the emotion of the circumstance but instead helps us turn our eyes toward what is beyond the moment and to the joy set before us through Christ.
This doesn’t put food on the table or magically make cancer go away. It doesn’t fix our finances or rebuild trust lost in a friend.
It simply realigns us to trust in God. This is humbling. It means we come to the realization that we sometimes can’t fix everything the way we want. It forces us to look into a mirror and realize our mortality but it also forces us to embrace hope and trust in Christ when we realize we can’t fix ourselves; let alone others.
I’m not going to say that by being thankful all the bad stuff in life goes away. Suffering in some form or fashion touches us all in this life. God never promised removal from suffering but we are assured we are never alone through it.
And the truth is we are going to fail at this thankfulness thing in our walk to being thankful in all circumstances.
This is okay. Just get back up and move forward. Don’t fake your emotions but also don’t let them control you, clouding your view of Christ. As Paul said in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.”
Thankfulness when rejoicing and weeping is possible when we fix our eyes on Christ and realign our hearts to trust him in all things and all circumstances. It is then we will find thankfulness doesn’t always laugh but sometimes it cries and when it does it is just as real as when it rejoices.