It comes every year, only this time you dread it. Just thinking of the holiday and all that it entails, feels draining. But what you dread most isn’t stuffing the turkey, mashing the potatoes, or even scrubbing the toilets in preparation for company. No, what you’d do anything to avoid is that moment when your entire family, from your great aunt to your infant niece, are gathered around the table, sharing highlights of their year.
Johnny got a raise. Linda’s pregnant. Stacey’s engaged.
You? Life’s been crazy. Uncertain. Disappointing. Hard.
Watching everyone else celebrate, hearing their joyful snippets, only makes your struggle feel that much harder. Darker.
You want to join in. You know you should join in. It’s the appropriate Christian response, after all. Besides, you have it much better than 90% of the world, many of who experience unimaginable poverty or persecution.
But that doesn’t make Thanksgiving any easier. So you turn to God in prayer, asking him to cultivate a grateful heart within you.
I believe it is in that very moment, when things feel unbearably hard, that our thanksgiving becomes the most beautiful. It becomes a sacrifice offered up to our Savior. Doing so won’t be easy. In fact, we can’t do it in our own strength. But by taking our thoughts captive, drawing near to Christ in prayer, and focusing on our blessings, however big or small, we can grab hold of the peace and joy available to us through the cross.
This doesn’t mean we won’t grieve or struggle. Rather, it means our struggles won’t consume us and overshadow God’s goodness and grace.
After facing the terrors of death, after crying out to God in desperation, the anonymous psalmist who wrote Psalm 116:17 says:
“I will offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.”
A sacrifice always costs us something. It involves releasing something, willingly depriving ourselves of something. And yet, if we belong to Christ, we know our greatest losses become our greatest gains. As Christ said in Matthew 16:25, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (NLT).
To find our life, we must willingly relinquish it. This means surrendering everything—rights, concerns, hurts, frustrations and questions to God. Trading them for grace. When we do this, we begin to grab hold of the abundant life Christ offers.
At that moment, we begin to trade our anxiety for peace, our sorrow for joy, and our bitterness for love. That’s not to say our struggles miraculously disappear but rather, their sting diminishes in light of God’s tender mercies and grace. Through thanksgiving, he becomes greater and we become less (John 3:30), and that’s a good thing, because we need all of Christ we can get!
Having two chronic illnesses, I deal with chronic and unrelenting pain and fatigue. There are days when I get John 3:30 flipped, and I focus all my thoughts on me. This does nothing to ease my pain or increase my energy. To the contrary. The more I focus on me and my problems, the more miserable I become. Before I realize it, I’ve wasted a chunk of my day in sadness. Worse, by feeding the downward spiral of negativity, I’ve robbed myself of enjoying all those little things that could be bringing me joy.
Things like a relaxed, conversational meal with my family.
A giggly day with my friends.
A quiet morning soaking up the peace-giving presence of my Savior.
And yet, on those days when I determine to focus on Christ and the gifts he’s granted, everything becomes easier. More joyful. Intentional gratitude becomes my lifeline to joy and peace.
Click here to read more.
Jennifer Slattery lives in the midwest with her husband and their teenage daughter. She writes for Christ to the World Ministries, Internet Cafe Devotions, and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and compilation projects, and currently writes missional romance novels for New Hope Publishers.