Sometimes, it seems, the worries of this world bear down too much on me. Some nights I cannot wait to crawl into bed and sleep, exhausted by the toil of the day and spiritually spent from concerns unsolved.
I see struggle in those around me too. A friend clinging desperately from day to day as she watches her husband suffer, his body wasted away by cancer. A family battling to cope with the loss of their beloved 16-year-old who took his own life. A close friend saddened by her daughter’s lifestyle choice of a live-in boyfriend after a second failed marriage. Another dear family making adjustments with their teenager’s new baby born out of wedlock.
And so, when we gather to pray and reach the part of giving thanks, something in me responds with cynicism. Thank you, Lord, for such and such, I hear someone say. What is there to be thankful for, the darkness in me questions. Thank you, Lord, for …., someone else says. I think about how every one in my family has had some sort of surgery or another. Thank you, Lord, for …. My son is hurting with disappointment and my daughter’s future is uncertain. I hear their prayers. But I am weary and discouraged.
Some thanks are for answers to prayers. Some are for specific acts of grace. They all hint of trails faced. Some really have problems. Yet they have much to give thanks for. They see God’s hand in their life. As I sit and listen, I begin to see how pitiful my thoughts are. As they praise and give thanks, I am being shown where my heart is. I am covetous, discontent, angry, doubtful, proud and lacking in faith. In marked contrast, they are so thankful, despite their problems.
It shames me. Where is my gratitude? How quickly God’s blessings fade into the background. How easily trouble can come and distract me from recognizing his grace. I scold myself for my failure to be content with my lot. Thinking of their prayer, I become more and more humbled. How I must sadden my God. I look to find something to be thankful for.
It would not be difficult for me to count my blessings because I know they are there and but to do so would be contrived. I really must change direction from where I was when those prayers were said. What I really need is to give thanks--with a grateful heart--for those very trials and challenges that he has placed in my life and my children’s.
His ways are not like our ways. In a world which clamors for instant gratification, quick solutions and self promotion, thankfully, his Word teaches perseverance, suffering and self denial. Society idolizes the strongest, the richest, and the beautiful. In Jesus, the weak are strong, the poor is rich and the humble are blessed. Less is more. God looks at the heart.
His Word is rich with encouragement and lessons to endure and trust. Yet in dealing with problems, I have become so self-absorbed I forget to act in faithfulness. Anxiety, disappointment, whining and complaint prevail in my testimony. They express my lack of faith. God is looking for a people to display his glory. I fail as his witness. I need his forgiveness. My prayer of thanks is meaningless if I do not repent in my ways and live my life trusting in his promises.
By his grace, I need to bear witness reflecting the thanks that I give the Lord for allowing difficulties in my children’s life. Even I realize that success after success in their young lives really would be too much of a good thing (although admittedly, I could live with that.) How else can they learn patience, perseverance, humility, brokenness, dependence on him and grace? Thankfully, in God’s plans pain brings gain and failure can bring winning. I need to encourage them, guide them, show them we must do our best and trust the Lord to do the rest.
By his grace, maybe we can embrace suffering with friendship, not as something to get over with quickly. If the Lord has allowed it, we can surely befriend the lessons learned from it and not let them be forgotten or lost once the trial has passed.
In The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom described her memories as “the key not to the past, but to the future.” She wrote: “I know the experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work He will give us to do.” If we can only understand God’s sovereignty, then living through difficulties in this light can only bring hope.
In closing, I want to move beyond my self-centered thanksgiving to giving him thanks that is worthy of him. And that is to thank him not only for what he has done for us but for who he is. The I am, the LORD, the Holy One.