“give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV
Thanksgiving is upon us. Time to plan the menu and prepare our favorite recipes. We look forward to a day of good food, parades, games, and great company.
It is a day for gratitude, for enjoying cherished traditions, and making precious memories. At least it is in Hallmark movies. But, for many people, this day is challenging, even painful.
Challenging because relationships are complex, making family get togethers complicated. Painful when those we love dearly are no longer with us or separated from us by distance, death, or family drama. Family dynamics, good or bad, all play a part in how well we anticipate the holiday get-togethers.
I am facing a challenging holiday season this year, as it’s the first one without my mom. Her loss will be deeply felt at our family gatherings. Perhaps you have lost a beloved family member over the past few months. Death, divorce, drama, and drifting all cause holes in our hearts as we long to fill the void their loss leaves behind.
When our loved ones are separated from us emotionally or physically because of addiction or self-destructive lifestyles, arguments and divisiveness can cause the holidays to be stressful and heartbreaking. Being thankful doesn’t seem feasible when we are grieving the loss of what should-have-beens.
“Why can’t we have a normal family like all the other families I know?”
“Why does my husband, our son, my mother have to drink and ruin it for everyone else?”
”I want our daughter home for Christmas, but we haven’t spoken in three years.”
“I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.” Psalms 69:3 ESV
We pray this holiday will be without confrontations and pain-free. We long for the simpler days when our families came together, got along, and stayed together. We can only hope that this year will be a good one.
It can be hard to be thankful when we are facing unknown fears that our holidays may not, or probably will not, turn out the way we hoped. It may be a wonderful time spent enjoying good company, or it may turn out to be a complete disaster. If we let it, anxiety can steal our holiday spirit.
For me, there are multiple emotions flowing as I picture my mom’s empty seat at the dining table. I am thankful she is with Jesus and no longer in pain. While gratitude doesn’t fill the void her absence left behind, it does put salve on its sting.
Gratitude When You’re Not Feeling it
It can be hard to be grateful in all things when we are anticipating difficult days ahead. Some situations are just too hard, too painful. We try, without success, to see the bright side, but we can’t.
The good news is that Jesus gives us a reason to be thankful. He brings light to what could be a very dark season in our lives. As we reflect on his goodness, we are reminded that the God of the universe is also God of the impossible. He is more than able to restore that which is broken, including our relationships.
While it may be impossible to feel gratitude, it is still possible to practice being grateful. In the worst of situations, we have reason to rejoice. We are not alone. We have Jesus.
Because of Him, we can look forward to whatever comes our way. Good or bad, we are not doing it alone. He hears our silent prayers for our broken family members. He sees our tears falling as we mash the potatoes. He feels our grief as we put on a happy face to entertain our guests.
Practicing gratitude can be as simple as just saying, “thank you.” Making a Gratitude Jar or Blessing Board that you can add pictures, promises, and prayers to is a constant reminder of God’s goodness in your life. Putting on praise music and spending time in worship will give you the mental break you need and lift the heaviness off your heart. Taking a walk as you take in the beauty of creation does wonders to shift your attitude to one of thankfulness.
Sharing your time and resources with others is another way to practice thankfulness. This year I have participated in opportunities to pour myself into the lives of others. It has helped me tremendously to not fall into a self-pity trap. Giving back and paying it forward can do wonders as we cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
Jesus Gets Us
Having Jesus in our hearts doesn’t guarantee the perfect holiday season, absent of angst and debt-free. It doesn’t promise us a White Christmas with a picture-perfect tree ready to don the pages of Better Homes and Garden. Nor does it assure us that everyone will be on their best behavior. Or even be with us, for that matter.
Having Jesus does put it all in perspective, though. He adjusts our focus and sets our gaze on the things that matter most. He reminds us that all the worries and concerns we have for today are only temporary. We have an eternal promise, and for that we can be very thankful.
Being thankful isn’t always easy. In fact, it can be very hard, if we are trying to muster up gratitude on our own. However; when we invite Jesus into those painful, lonely places of our hearts that long for things to be healed and whole, it is then that we can truly say, “It is well with my soul.”
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” Habakkuk 3:17-18 ESV
We are grateful that you are with us always. When our hearts ache for our missing family members, you are our Comforter. We are thankful for your provision when our finances are tight. You never asked us to do the hard times without you. You always promised to be with us. Thank you. In Jesus name.
Beautiful Blessings. Dawn