Giving Thanks When You Don’t Feel Thankful

You’re not sure if you can face your family this year. You’re grieving the empty seat at the table. You or a family member is very ill. Your marriage is struggling. You’ve just had a breakup. You’re struggling with infertility. You’ve lost your job. You’re deep in debt. You can barely afford the turkey on the table. The list goes on. What is there really to be thankful for?

I’m with you. In 2019 I was very ill with bipolar disorder and my medications weren’t anywhere close to helping. Since my son’s birth in 2017 I hadn’t had a break from one crisis or another. As a result, my marriage was struggling and I was barely functioning. I was anything but thankful sitting down at the thanksgiving table that year.

Feeling Thankful

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

How am I to “rejoice always” and “give thanks in all circumstances” when there’s such a weight on my chest? I don’t feel thankful.

It’s easy to get sucked into our feelings that we miss out on the bigger picture. It’s ok not to feel thankful. It’s ok to look at your circumstances and struggle to find something to be thankful for. I don’t like it when someone says, “There’s always something to be thankful for.” Yes, there are probably some small things but they don’t lend to feeling thankful in the scope of our current circumstances. Giving thanks goes beyond our circumstances.

You might not feel thankful, but you can have a heart of thanksgiving in that Jesus suffered and died for you, then defeated death and rose again. He took on the weight of your sins and brokenness, though he himself was sinless. All the suffering that you are experiencing pales in comparison to Christ’s selflessness. He knows your pain intimately. He has known about it and experienced it before you were even born. You don’t have to feel thankful but you can have thanksgiving by faith.

Thanksgiving by Faith

Faith is not based on feeling. 

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

Hebrews 11:1-3

We can have faith that God works all things for good. The good might not be apparent right now, but God has a plan. When you are struggling it’s hard to see what that plan might be, just like you can’t see blue sky in the middle of a storm. Faith is not seeing, it’s believing. Faith is crying out to God in your pain and trusting him to hold you through your circumstances.

How Do I Find Faith?

The question, then, is not how am I supposed to be thankful in my trial, but how can I have faith in God’s plan? 

Engage in Community

Reach out to someone and let them know you are struggling. We don’t walk through this life on our own. There are people in your life who love you and care for you. Maybe they will be at your table this thanksgiving or maybe they can be there to support you from a distance. 

Get your body in the right place. You might not feel like leaving your house to go to church, Bible study, or your community group, but by putting your body in this environment you are allowing God to minister to you through his body. 

God created us for community, so lean into the people around you.

Pray Without Ceasing

In his letter to the Thessonicans, Paul doesn’t say to only “rejoice” and “give thanks,” but to “pray without ceasing.” God knows your pain, so go to him with it! If you don’t know where to start, look into prayer journaling. It’s my go-to when I know I need to pray but don’t really know what to say.

Get Into the Word

If you are like me, this is really hard to do when you are in a hard place. If you have been a believer for any amount of time, I hope this has been a regular practice for you. If you are stuck, here are a few ideas:

1. In my darkest moments when opening the cover of my Bible required monumental strength, I depended on God’s words that I had memorized or Biblical truths I was familiar with from a habit of regular study. 

2. Open your Bible to the center and let David’s Psalms wash over you. 

3. Do a google search, “Bible verses about___,” to be directed to scripture related to your struggle.

4. Ask a friend to open the word with you. As I said before, there is power in community. When you don’t have strength on your own, let someone walk alongside you.

This year I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving. I have a lot to be thankful for. My life is still hard, but I’m healthier than I’ve been in a long time and God has begun to use my pain for his glory. He’s given me the opportunity to use my trials to help others who are struggling. Your situation may never be resolved, but through faith in Christ you can trust there will be a time that you can see how God has given you reason to be thankful.