I held my breath as the phone rang, hesitant to answer.
In the last several months, my husband Ted and I had experienced back-to-back losses. It had been one piece of bad news after another, and I feared more would come with each call.
First, we’d grieved the death of our preborn baby to miscarriage. Next, came a difficult layoff. And, in the midst of the sorrow, I began to experience panic attacks and irrational fear. The loss of control I felt only intensified as I struggled to physically function on a day-to-day basis.
Our months of sorrow soon stretched to two years, ones I now refer to as our “Weeping Years.” We faced a second layoff, multiple moves, a house that refused to sell, and financial difficulty.
Through it all, there were moments – many of them, in fact – where it was hard to be thankful.
Maybe you can relate. Perhaps you’re also in a season of loss and sorrow, or it could be that life’s simply more challenging right now than you’d prefer. Whatever the case is, you understand. You find it hard to be thankful sometimes too.
How can you and I encourage our discouraged hearts when life is hard?
Here are a few practical ways we can live out the biblical admonishment to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
- Start small
Recently, Ted and I hit another financially difficult season. Between our four kids and two pets, we spent $800 in unexpected medical expenses just last week. This week promises to be hard on the wallet too. I admit this hasn’t left me feeling thankful in a season that beckons me to have a grateful heart. Instead, I’m struggling. This afternoon I even had a good cry about it.
Cultivating a thankful heart when life is hard sometimes means you and I have to start small. We have to determine to narrow our focus in on those areas of life where it’s easier to be grateful.
For me, it’s things such as food in the fridge, spare change in the junk drawer, hot coffee in the morning, and cars that are well-used, but still reliable.
What about you?
What are some small blessings for which you can be grateful when thankfulness is hard? I recommend making a list and referring back to it in those moments when it feels like everything is going wrong.
- Remind yourself of the past
As I talk about in my book, Braving Sorrow Together, you and I aren’t the only ones who find it difficult to be thankful when circumstances are hard. In the Old Testament, the Israelites regularly failed when it comes to gratitude. Some of them even believed it would be better to return to slavery in Egypt than face the uncertainty of the wilderness.
How did God encourage His people to be thankful?
In Joshua 4:21-24, He instructed them to remember the past, to remind themselves of His continued and unwavering faithfulness.
You and I can do the same. When can do this by asking ourselves questions such as:
- How has God been faithful to help me through hard seasons in the past?
- What beauty can I see now that’s resulted from difficult circumstances in my history?
Our past can inform our present when it comes to God’s goodness and faithfulness. As it does, it can fuel thankfulness.
- Surround yourself with “yes” people
When you read “yes people,” who did you immediately think of? I’m guessing it’s those individuals who agree with everything. People who don’t tell us the truth or listen well. Instead, they simply say, “Yes.”
Those are not the kind of “yes” people I’m talking about here.
Rather, these are the people who believe and hope in the promises of Scripture. These “yes” people are the ones who will tell you:
- “Yes, I’m sorry you are going through this.”
- “Yes, me too. I can relate.”
- “Yes, I’m here for you and so is God.”
- “Yes, God is still good to you … even if it doesn’t feel like it.”
- “Yes, there are things you can be grateful for and here are a few ..”
We all need to surround ourselves with “yes” people who will tell us the truth about God and what His Word says. Community that doesn’t dismiss or belittle our pain, but who encourage us to grieve it with hope – the hope that comes with knowing God doesn’t leave us to face the hard times alone.
If you find it hard to be thankful right now, I get it. I’ve been there. In all honesty, I’m there this week. But I encourage you to do what I strive to do too, and that’s start small, remember the past, and surround yourself with the right “yes” people.
Ashleigh Slater is the author of “Team Us: Marriage Together” and “Braving Sorrow Together: The Transformative Power of Faith and Community When Life is Hard.” Find out more about Ashleigh at AshleighSlater.com or follow her on Facebook.