The Bible tells us that we are to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18
) yet as a Christian counselor I have found that verse difficult to actually apply when people are struggling with difficult life situations.
For example, how do you tell someone to give thanks in all things when they have been raped, sexually abused as a child, robbed, or betrayed by a spouse?
Yet not too long ago a woman shared with me exactly how she did it. She said, “Leslie I have learned that I can’t give thanks for all things, but I have learned I can give thanks in all things.”
She went on to tell me that her only child was recently killed in motorcycle accident. She said, “I am so thankful he didn’t suffer. I’m thankful that he knew the Lord and someday I will see him again. I am so thankful that I had 24 good years with him and that I have so many good friends who are supporting me through this time of grief.”
My jaw dropped. This woman was brokenhearted yet gratitude made a difference in the way she experienced her suffering. She was not angry, she was not bitter. Yes, she was sad as she should be, but she was also experiencing joy in the midst of her sadness.
Many secular studies confirm that practice of gratitude improves our mental and emotional well-being. When we are in the habit of looking for specific things to be thankful for, it has a powerful affect on the way we “see” our life. We learn to be grateful for the good things even in the midst of the hard things instead of feeling gypped that God, life, or other people aren’t giving us all that we deserved or wanted.
Psychologist Sonja Lyuomirsky writes, “Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, a neutralizer of envy, avarice, hostility, worry and irritation.”
Science now confirms what God’s word says. When you struggle with negative emotions, being thankful neutralizes their toxic effect. Isn’t that amazing?
The psalmist reminds us that God is pleased even when giving thanks feels impossible. He writes, “But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors me.” (Psalm 50:23).
Friend, I know it’s hard sometimes to thank God in all things. But this obedience not only pleases him, it blesses you. Take some time during this busy holiday season purpose to look for five things every day that you can be thankful for.
Discipline yourself to do it especially when you are swept up in the more negative emotions like anger, impatience, irritation, anxiety, or sadness. In those moments, when you look for the things you can be grateful for, you will find those negative emotions not nearly as powerful or controlling over you as they once were.
Have a blessed Thanksgiving friend. I am thankful for you.