My heavenly Father graciously listens and then transforms my heart.
Judy shuffled into church, shoulders sagging. Clearly, it took determination for her to simply walk through the door. When asked how she was doing, she replied, “This morning I woke up, and after taking stock of my body, I said, ‘Thank You, Lord. My ear lobes feel really good today.’”
Some days are like that. It seems every inch of your body aches. It takes effort to find even one small thing to be grateful for.
Maybe right now, your life has experienced an earthquake of difficulty. Your husband got laid off. Or the doctor has diagnosed your mother with Alzheimer’s. Or the medical professionals can’t figure out why your daughter always has stomach aches.
Or maybe, you’ve had a landslide of smaller problems. The bank lost an important payment. The car needs a new water pump. The furnace is making strange noises.
It feels like your world is crumbling. So when you walk through the home décor section at the big box store and see signs that declare, “Grateful. Thankful. Blessed.” And “Have an attitude of gratitude,” you wince.
How can we practice gratitude in hard seasons?
Give Thanks in All Circumstances
We know we should practice thanksgiving. After all, the apostle Paul wrote, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 emphasis added).
Paul didn’t say, “Give thanks only when you win the lottery.” Or “Pray words of thanksgiving only on the days you can fit into your favorite jeans.”
He also didn’t say, “Don’t worry about thanksgiving when your best friend has moved three states away.” Or “Don’t bother with gratitude when it has rained for three days straight, and the basement has flooded.”
Paul said, “Give thanks in all circumstances.”
That may seem as doable as mopping up the flooded basement with a doily. But Paul’s instruction becomes a little easier when focusing on a different word in Paul’s instruction:
“Give thanks in all circumstances.”
We may not be able to express gratitude for everything in our lives, but in the middle of the hard seasons, we can find other things to be thankful for. Just like Judy found one thing to thank God for even while her body ached, we can search for things to be grateful for in the middle of flooded basements and dire diagnoses. Let’s do this by focusing on three action words: Think, Talk, and Go.
When hard seasons come, our minds tend to get stuck on a muddy road, rehearsing everything wrong with our lives. Here are a few prompts to help your mind switch lanes:
Think Big: Instead of focusing on all the predicaments in your life, try thinking big. Remember that God is much bigger than all your problems. If you can, go outside on a clear night and look at the stars. Or search for images from the Hubble or James Webb telescope to remind yourself of the vastness of creation and the awesome power of the Creator. If God can make a star that has a volume 10 billion times the volume of our sun, surely He can take care of your family during a layoff.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,… to him who made the great lights, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 136: 3,7)
Think Small: When I’m struggling to find something to be thankful for, I start to look small. Even when my back is hurting and the bathroom drain is running at glacier speed, I can still thank God for my pumpkin spice latte, my sea salt caramel dark chocolate bar, or big bowl of buttered popcorn. My fluffy white robe, lavender candle, and clean-smelling sheets become objects of thanksgiving. Even in the middle of dark times, God still gives me blessings.
"For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving." (1 Timothy 4:4)
Think Eternal: A leaking dishwasher and plugged-up sink are no fun. But we can still thank God for His eternal gifts to us. Friends may move away, and jobs can disappear, but no one can take God’s salvation from you. You will always have His peace, His grace, and His love. For all believers in Christ, it gets eternally better.
"Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever." (Psalm 136:1)
When we go through grueling seasons and can’t seem to find one thing to thank God for, we may need to talk things through to rediscover gratitude.
Talk with a friend: When I feel stuck in negativity, I call a friend. Someone who will listen. Someone who won’t judge when I vulnerably express my anxious thoughts. Bonus points if this friend can also make me laugh!
Sometimes, simply airing out my frustrations will help me switch gears and see the situation in a new light. Then I can discover a positive side to the difficulty or at least find a way to laugh in the middle of it. Thank God for listening, friends.
"I thank my God every time I remember you." (Philippians 1:3)
Talk with a pastor, counselor, or spiritual director: When our current road of life is riddled with potholes, we may need more than a friend to help us find our way through. We can seek assistance from pros who guide others through problems. Make an appointment with your pastor. Find a Christian counselor. Search for advisors who will give you sound biblical direction. Thank God that He has gifted others with talents for listening and guidance.
"This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God." (2 Corinthians 9:12)
Talk with God: This may seem obvious, but sometimes when my heart feels nothing but hurt and disappointment, I find it difficult to talk to God. I don’t feel I can bring my messy emotions and pesky problems to a perfect God. But then I open the book of Psalms and see that King David often came to God with a long list of difficulties. This reassures me that I can empty out my frustrations and know that God hears me. He won’t hang up on me because my prayers aren’t perfect. My heavenly Father graciously listens and then transforms my heart.
"I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation." (Psalm 118:21)
Go outside: Take a walk. Hike in the woods. Kayak on a river. Sit on your deck. Often a dose of nature can boost our spirits. And while we walk (or sit) outside, we can find at least one small thing to thank God for: A brilliant blue sky. A vivid red leaf on the path. A bright purple mum that has survived a frost.
"Give thanks to the Lord of lords…to him who spread out the earth above the waters." (Psalm 136: 3,6)
Go serve: When I experience life’s earthquakes, I can easily become self-absorbed. I focus on my problems, my difficulties. But if I can drag myself to help someone else, I find a new perspective. I see life from someone else’s viewpoint—someone who may have even bigger problems than my own. I don’t want to view the other person as a “project,” but I can thank God I can serve someone else.
"All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God." (2 Corinthians 4:15)
Go to Scripture: Last but not least, when you struggle to find words of thanksgiving, borrow some from Scripture. Pray some of David’s songs where he begins with listing all of his troubles but ends in praise to God (Psalm 7, Psalm 13, Psalm 28). Do a word search of “thank” in a concordance or online Bible and find some encouraging words. Here are a few to get you started: 1 Chronicles 16:8-12, Psalm 107:1-9, Psalm 145:1-13. Pray Scripture when you can’t find grateful words of your own.
"I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the LORD." (Psalm 116:17)
When we go through hard seasons of life and find it difficult to thank God for anything besides ear lobes that don’t hurt, let’s remember to think big, think small, and think eternal. May we endeavor to find a new perspective as we talk to friends, talk to counselors, and talk to God. May we find gratitude as we go to nature, go to serve, and go to Scripture.
"Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever." (Psalm 107:1)
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/AaronAmat
Sharla Fritz is a Christian author and speaker who weaves honest and humorous stories into life-changing Bible study. Author of the new book Measured by Grace: How God Defines Success, Sharla writes about God’s transforming grace and unfailing love. Sharla lives in the Chicago suburbs with her amusing pastor husband. Get her FREE ebook 21 Five-Minute Soul-Rest Practices or connect with Sharla at www.sharlafritz.com and Facebook.