In the midst of preparing a meal or traveling to the home of a loved one, most of us will take time to express to God our gratitude for the blessings—the many good things—He has granted us during the last year. Such is our common understanding of “giving thanks.”
Early this fall during a retreat, my worship pastor challenged my understanding of this idea as he taught from I Thessalonians 5:16-18: Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
To emphasize the idea of “giving thanks in all circumstances,” Pastor Chad sent us on a prayer walk. He directed us to a trail where he had previously set up several counter-intuitive prayer thoughts: thanks, God, that I cannot hide from You, especially when I most want to; thank you for allowing me to stumble; thank you, Lord, for tragedy in my life. We were to stop at each sign, taking time to personalize each prayer—to give thanks for the situations God brought to our attention through those statements.
I thought again of Chad’s challenge this week, when I attended a remembrance service in honor of our oldest daughter, Anna Vivian, whom my husband and I lost to a second-trimester miscarriage in November 1998. God has graciously carried me through the grieving process from that worst day of my life. I am thankful for that. But can I honestly be thankful for having lost her to begin with?
Certainly not in the common understanding of thankfulness—the idea of “gladness.” I long to cuddle Anna…to know her quirky smile…to see her as big sister to my two other daughters. In fact, this year her absence has pricked my heart more than most other years.
I don’t think, though, that God’s definition of “thankfulness” is a synonym for “gladness.” Instead, thankfulness seems to be much more aligned with the concepts of trust and submission. That is, if I am thankful in all things, I will trust that God knows what He is doing in and through each circumstance. I will submit to His orchestration of an event even when I do not understand it in the least. And then I will try in His strength to bring glory to Him through it, even in my pain.
So I am not “glad” that Anna is away from me. But I am thankful: for the friends and family who rallied to my aid eight years ago; that I have since been able to minister to other women who have gone through similar circumstances; that, by virtue of Anna’s absence, I appreciate her sisters more than I otherwise would.
What about you? In what hard situation can you give thanks this year? That doesn’t mean you need to be “glad,” just that you are willing to try seeing God’s hand in whatever happened.