As soon as the calendar turns to November my thoughts turn to Thanksgiving. There’s already been talk in my life about plans and hosts and friends and food. This year I want you to spend time not only preparing yourself for the big day but also preparing your heart for it. I’ve noticed over the past year or so that I turn more quickly to negativity and cynicism than ever before. These are not words I’d use to describe myself – and I don’t ever want to – but honestly? they just seem to come easier right now; maybe because of all we’ve been through the past 2 years.
In November I don’t want to be told to “count my blessings.” It feels trite and dismissive of real things going on. When someone tells me to do that, it reminds me of when I’d go to Target with four babies, and they’d all begin to melt down in tears or snacks or poops and an older woman would say to me; “treasure every minute with them.” It made me want to scream, negating the very real struggle I had right then and there.
Gratitude doesn’t have to feel like that. Gratitude is actually a powerful spiritual practice that rescues us. It pulls us out of cynicism, negativity and blindness to God. It gives us a new way to see what’s around us – maybe one that’s more real than how we look at our lives every day. It is not (just) a fleeting emotion we feel when someone helps us out, or something falls into place, or we catch a glimpse of a previously hidden blessing. Gratitude is not just felt emotionally, it’s practiced intentionally: it’s a deliberate reflection that becomes our ongoing disposition.
And as it does, gratitude heals.
We can deliberately practice gratitude and become healthier spiritually and physically. Not only my personal experience tells me this—the Bible and modern psychology are entirely cohesive: gratitude is so very good for us, both inside and out.
It’s correlated with lower stress levels, less depression, and less neuroses. (And who wouldn’t want to set down a few of those?!) It’s not just neurological health. The Bible claims gratitude as a key to spiritual health as well. Psalm 92:1 says, “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord.” When God showed up in the flesh on earth as a man named Jesus, his life overflowed with gratitude in both good and bad moments, embodying the instruction in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “In everything give thanks.” In everything! Everything means everything.
Whatever you are facing there is a way to give thanks straight through it. You can empower your own healing in the midst of anything with gratitude. The more I search for God in thanksgiving, the more I find him at work.
Gratitude heals disappointment. Gratitude is a statement of certainty that the work of God will not be thwarted even through pain and loss. I think back to the moment in 2020 where I completely lost it over schools and businesses remaining closed for months on end—the loss of work for my husband, the end of my grad school graduation, the loss of opportunities for my kids they’d worked hard for…. Who didn’t have one of these moments, amiright? I know loss has looked like sickness and death of all kinds for you and probably continued into 2021 in many ways.
Jesus also knew loss. He lost one of his closest friends. He wept over his death. And then he expressed gratitude—just before raising him from the dead! Gratitude can co-exist with hurt and loss. Gratitude also doesn’t diminish the power of God to resurrect absolutely anything from the dead. We can always thank God for his power to return anything that has been lost.
Gratitude is power over bitterness. Ever tempted to blame God for taking things from you or delaying what you’d like to have? Gratitude pushes off the build-up of bitterness and sees ways that God is providing. Gratitude finds enough with what the world says isn’t enough. Jesus said a prayer of thanks when facing a crowd of many thousands and then offered up to God the small snack he had in his hands. God multiplied that food and fed everyone there! Gratitude looks past our poverty to a God who owns it all.
Gratitude builds resilience. We’ve heard plenty about immunity recently, right? Gratitude is like that: it’s our body’s ability to resist toxins upon future contact. You will be disappointed again; lose again; face death again. Gratitude chooses to see a good God in the middle of bad things. It builds trust in a God that’s bigger and above all—good. “O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good.” (Psalms 136:1). The next time we confront whatever toxin comes at us, we’re stronger in spirit. Jesus grew in such strength and trust in the goodness of his Father that he actually said “thank-you” just before undergoing the unbelievable suffering of being killed on a cross! The more I continue to develop a disposition of gratitude, the easier I find it to resist mistrust, anger, or negativity that rises up in me.
Thanksgiving is not just a day with some turkey—it’s an act of warfare against what wants to kill your soul —disappointment, bitterness, and mistrust in God.
I don’t care if you make a pretty list in a journal, grumble it under your breath, or share it at the dinner table: just practice gratitude this year intentionally. Fight for yourself. Go after your own emotional, mental, and spiritual health. Let’s DO some thanksgiving and finish 2021 strong.