On the days I don't want to be grateful
Four hours after pressing publish on this post, it seems I haven't been entirely clear about whether I am talking about giving thanks *for* hard things, or giving thanks *in* hard things. Apologies for the garble.
Despite the story of Betsie and Corrie Ten Boom in the concentration camp, actually giving thanks for the fleas in their bunk houses, I am not trying to say that I think I must give thanks for every single hard, painful piece of life's detritus that comes my way. Although I think there could be an argument made for it (in Betsie's case, the fleas kept the guards away, leaving the prisoners free to have a worship service), I'm not going to go that far.
I'm talking about giving thanks *in* all circumstances - finding something to be thankful for no matter what is going on around us. It doesn't sound as hard as the other - and yet, the point I'm making is that is still is. When life is tough, I don't want to show any gratitude whatsoever, because I want to be Very Clear that I Don't Like This and getting thankful might be distracting.
In any case, I've edited the original post slightly to make sure that my point is more obvious.
I've been asked to share in giving a talk on Sunday on this verse:
"Give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus"
1 Thessalonians 5:18
I'll be honest. It's ticking me off a little bit. I wouldn't mind so much if the verse said 'give thanks in some circumstances'. Or maybe 'give thanks in the circumstances you like'.
It's that annoying little word, 'all' that's sticking in my throat. You see, I don't want to give thanks in all circumstances. Because there are many circumstances I like a lot less than other circumstances. On the days when the circumstances are hard or painful or disastrous, on the days when I'm laid low or brought to the end of myself by the circumstances or when I'm crying because the way forward is going to take more strength than I think I can muster - on those days, I don't want to give thanks. Being grateful might make me think about something else. It might dilute the fact that I am unhappy. It might make other people think that what I'm dealing with isn't actually that serious.
My attitude is a little bit like the 9 year old kid (no, not my own this time) I taught in Sunday school this week. He asked me, "Why doesn't God just make us all good all the time?"
"God's very keen on giving us all freedom of choice," I answered. "He'd rather that you choose to do the right thing than be made to do it."
He pondered it for a little bit. "Maybe God could make me choose to listen to my mum," he said. And then, just as quickly, he shook his head. "Actually, no. That wouldn't work. I basically just don't want to listen to my mum."
And there we have it.
SOME DAYS I DO NOT CHOOSE TO BE GRATEFUL.
So it's kinda hypocritical to go and give a talk on being thankful in all circumstances, right? As though, hey, that's easy for me. I know how to do that. I like doing that.
What I can say about this verse is this. The reason I don't choose to give thanks in crummy circumstances is because in my head, it seems that if I give thanks in the midst of something tough, it means I'm okay with it, when actually, I just desperately want it to change.
But there's no logic in that. You can be thankful about something without having to think that everything else is perfect. You can be thankful in the now without having to control the future. You can be thankful for what you can learn in the circumstances. You can be thankful in the midst of pain without having to be a martyr forever and ever, amen.
The other reason I don't like to be thankful in all circumstances is because deep down I still believe that my happiness is dependent on my circumstances. Good golly, Miss Molly. You'd think I'd have learned that little lesson by now.
Even more ironic is the fact that in the little 'guided journal' book for teenagers I'm writing - entitled '60 days of Happiness' - I've written this:
Saying thank you for the bad things
Kidding, right? That title can’t be serious. Why would you want to be thankful for pain, heartbreak, loss and all the rest of the sucky stuff life can throw at you?
I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy. I will be honest, though. (And I’m a person who’s had enough really hard times in her life to make me know what I’m talking about.) Being thankful in the hard times helps.
Thankfulness keeps hope alive. It says, “I’m stronger than this struggle.” It says, “There will always be some good that can come of this.”
It’s hard to see where the good things are on the really tough days. But they are there, waiting to be found. They’re in the sparkle of sunshine flashing on a bubble of water, in the fur of a puppy, in a book that you love to read.
When you’re through the bad times (and you will be – one day) you’ll look back and realise that you do have something to be thankful for. Because of them, you’ll be stronger, or more compassionate, or more knowledgeable, or wiser, or more beautiful.
I want to be more grateful. I want the thankfulness to come bubbling out of me like an enthusiastic fizzy drink. But I wonder: Is it going to happen? Or will I have to keep slogging away at making lists and practicing? Is this just another thing I'm going to need to be persistent about?
What about you? Do you give thanks 'in all circumstances'?.