This week last year we had a house busting at the seams with our dearest friends. We had our first Denver snowstorm of the season. We ate Eggs Benedict for breakfast Thanksgiving morning. We went hunting for Christmas trees in the Colorado wilderness. And on Black Friday the menfolk left at 5am to stand in the freezing cold for several hours with a hundred others waiting for Goose Island Brewery’s yearly and limited stash. We were rich and full in every way, almost overwhelmed by any one of the blessings around and within us. We were also two months into what would be nearly six months of unemployment for Nate, and had no way of knowing then, but that cozy home would soon lead to a pretty devastating financial loss for us.
Yesterday I read these words, “If you woke up today with only what you thanked God for yesterday, what would you have?” I sat in a bastion of self-congratulatory pleasure for a minute because about a month ago, in a dearth of gratefulness and desert of thanksgiving, I began jotting down ten things throughout my day I was thankful for. So not only had I thanked God for plenty the day before, I also had lists from the weeks earlier. I breathed a sigh of relief that if I woke with only what I’d thanked God for yesterday, I would have fresh produce from the grocery store, a husband who loved me, a puppy who never leaves my side, candles, and a spectacular array of fall colors.
Then I thought back to a year ago this week, how full to overflowing I felt and yet how taken from at the same time. There was a mounting list of Hard Things in life—we hadn’t even seen the half of it yet—yet it didn’t take from the moment of thankfulness I felt. The week of Thanksgiving wasn’t without difficulty (putting seven friends in a tiny house for seven days you’re bound to have hiccups along the way), but it isn’t the difficulty I remember most, it’s the warmth around the Thanksgiving dinner, the way the candlelight fell on the lace tablecloth, how good the tenderloin was, going around the table thanking God for very real and very good things, taking walks in the evening on fresh dry snow. Looking back it’s the delight I remember most.
I suppose this is what practicing gratefulness is, in a way. It’s digging through the wreckage to find treasure even if the treasure itself would seem to be wreckage to others. I’m coming to a place where I can look behind me and say, with all honesty, thank you, God, for the loss of Nate’s job and the months of unemployment—we learned valuable lessons about who our Provider is. Thank you, God, for the violence we experienced in Denver—I can never again say I am untouched by it. Thank you, God, for the church crisis we walked through—we are more sober about membership, leadership, community, and sin. Thank you, God, for two-cross country moves in a year, and hopefully one more soon—we have learned to live with less. Thank you, God, for miscarriages—we have learned our bodies are not in our control. Thank you, God, for the financial loss we took on our house—we have learned to hold money and things loosely. Thank you, God, for how difficult D.C. has been for us to find and have deep church community—we have learned it isn’t as easy for everyone else as it was for us in Texas. Thank you, God, for the forced break from ministry that the past nine months have been—we have learned our primary ministry is to one another. I could go on.
In the midst of each of those painful things, though, I could not muster thanksgiving if I tried. It is still hard to thank God for really hard things like watching a police officer get shot or losing tiny barely formed babies, but if I can pick my head up and look to God, my sovereign and good King, I can thank Him. It is easy to thank Him when my head is lifted above the circumstances of today. I want to find delight in the good gifts of my everyday, but the cyclical work of gratefulness comes by being thankful for the Big Hard Things so we can find delight in the smaller ones, and then, when the Big Hard Things seem impossible to be grateful for, to thank Him for the small ones. Gratefulness begets thankfulness, and thankfulness begets gratefulness.
I don’t know what Big Hard Things are happening in your life and heart this Thanksgiving, but I do know He cares for you. I know it because the Bible says so and we are people of the Word, not the world. The Bible says in this life we will have trouble, but He has overcome. Mustering up gratefulness tomorrow might feel impossible for some of you. I have friends whose son is very, very sick. Another friend who lost his job recently. Another who lost her child this year. Another who is far away from his family. Another who is walking through a hard marriage. Another who is estranged from her parents. Everywhere I look there is pain and true gratefulness doesn’t overlook the pain, it doesn’t minimize it ever, but it looks straight through the pain and finds God’s goodness in the midst of it. I am praying that for you today and tomorrow.