Thankfulness seems so simple. You do something nice for someone and then they say thank you. You do likewise. It’s how things are supposed to be. However, we all know that is often not the case. If I’m going to do something for someone, I know that I might not be thanked. That is a how it often is. Just recently, I helped someone out. It was a small thing. I kind of did it more for the program he was in more than him specifically, but he expressed his deep gratitude and it caught me a bit off guard as I didn’t really expect it. Thankfulness is often unexpected.
Expressing gratitude makes sense in everyday life. But, is it necessary to express thanks for adversity in our life? I believe in God and I know that He can intervene and change things. I know that for reasons known to Him alone, He often does not. I also know that sometimes the impact of humanity and others’ wrongdoings affect me. Someone’s bad choices may result in my pain. Is it right in those circumstances to actually be thankful?
“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.… “ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
1. Thankfulness is not giving up. It can seem weak to express gratitude for pain. Isn’t that something that a person who is giving up would do? Releasing the difficulty we cannot change into the hands of someone who can is an exercise of great wisdom. It’s actually much harder to express thankfulness and give our pain to God, than it is to try to carry it ourselves. The effort to pass it over means acknowledging that there is a bigger picture and it requires letting go. This is a sign of great strength, not weakness.
2. Thankfulness releases me of negativity. It’s so easy to allow difficulties in our life to make us negative. If someone has hurt us, we can ponder about the situation until we become incredibly bitter. Why would we be thankful for difficulties and hurts? In and of ourselves, we wouldn’t; we don’t know how! However, when we seek God, and we ask Him to help us be thankful for our circumstances – and when we begin to pray for those who have hurt us, the negativity dissipates. Often, in its’ place, there is sympathy. We begin to see them differently and are sad for the choices they have made. It frees us when we are thankful.
3. Thankfulness gives strength. As we release our pain to God, and express thankfulness, He is able to give us strength. He is free to work and this often opens the door to the future. Our hope in Christ enables us to see things that we wouldn’t able to as when we are angry and bitter. God wants to be our everything. He can only do that when we fully rest in Him.
4. Thankfulness changes my perspective, not my situation. The act of being thankful is often not the happy ending to a fairytale. It’s the beginning of accepting that things are not the way they are supposed to be but that God can do something deep within us and even the people around us as we have a spirit of gratitude. The world looks brighter when we have hope. We approach things differently.
This is a daily learning for me. It’s not something we arrive at. I’ve personally experienced drastic changes in my worldview when I stopped and became thankful for adversity in my life. Bob Shank recently said “there is not a leader that I personally respect that has not been deeply betrayed at some point in their life.” His words stunned me. Really? Deep betrayal had enabled many to become leaders of great integrity and influence. They clearly were thankful for the adversity they had experienced. They used it as a foundation for their futures. Their world changed, they became better leaders because they allowed something very difficult to make them stronger and better people.
That is what being thankful can do. It’s the bigger picture. It’s what I cannot see. It’s allowing God to do a deep work within me and ultimately, help me to become what I’m intended.