When thankfulness is hard, know God is with you

I hope you are still making some delicious turkey sandwiches with the leftovers from that mouth-watering meal Thursday.

Our family has a tradition of taking a few moments before the table prayer to share what they are most thankful for.

Research demonstrates that grateful people enjoy benefits such as improved physical and emotional health, better relationships, higher self-esteem and longer lifespans.

But what about when you find it difficult to express gratitude to God? Despite the benefits of gratitude, many people aren’t grateful — not even on Thanksgiving.

There is a surprising survey done recently by the Harris Poll on behalf of American Greetings, in which three in five Americans said they would rather do something else than reflect on what they’re thankful for on Thanksgiving. Priority was given to watching football, watching streaming media, reading a book or spending time with a pet.

If you are having difficulty feeling gratitude during the holiday season, don’t be too hard on yourself. I believe for most people, the problem is general unhappiness rather than ingratitude. That unhappiness — or even depression — makes it difficult to appreciate the good things in life.

But what if giving thanks means more than just counting our blessings? What if being thankful meant surrendering our struggles, too?

Maybe this has been one of hardest years of your life. Some of your greatest joys have been rooted in moments of deep suffering. I meet men and women struggling with loneliness, addictions, anxiety, depression, grief, divorce, infertility and injustice. There are broken hearts, confused minds and hurting bodies.

When life is hard, God can seem so far away. So in hard times, especially at the start of the holiday season, maybe we need to redefine Thanksgiving. Maybe we can challenge ourselves to be more than just “thankful.”

Maybe we are challenged to do something even more difficult — trust. It means believing that God is who He says He is. Believing that He is good, that He is love, and He is for you. Believing that He never changes, that He never fails, and that He is working all things for what is good.

Whatever you are struggling through right now, may this holiday season be a reminder of God’s everlasting faithfulness for your life. Whatever is weighing on your heart and burdening your mind, be reminded that though you don’t understand the reason, there is a loving God who does, and He is walking by your side every step of the way.

His plans for your life may include weeping for a moment, but joy will always come in the morning.

I believe if we knew what God knows, we would want to be exactly in this time and exactly in this place. As hard as it may be, there is no better nor safer place to be than smack-dab in the middle of His good, pleasing and perfect will. Life doesn’t always turn out how we expect it to, but it turns out just right.

This holiday season, may you and I be challenged to trust God more, to believe him better, and to know Him deeper. His heart is good, His love is pure, His plans are magnificent. Whether we feel it or not, it doesn’t cease to be true.

Be more than thankful. Lay down your pain and problems at His feet — and choose to trust Him again.

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Larry Gember is pastor of St. James Lutheran Church in Greenfield. This weekly column is written by local clergy members.