This time of year has been one filled with tension for several years now. From 2019-2021, I was sick in one way or another and unable to eat more than a few bites.
It took me a year to recover from my MALS surgery–so I spent that Thanksgiving in pain as well.
I guess in my mind, I always kept saying, “Next year.”
Next year. Next year, everything will be okay, and the holidays will be what they were when I was a child–full of wonderment.
Last year, the day after Thanksgiving, began a long downward spiral in my mental health that would lead to circumstances I’m still wrapping my head around.
But that story is for another time.
I think that deep down, we’re all trying to find that level of simple wonderment we had as kids. Back when all it took was family and friends, decorations, and helping Grandma make chocolate pies to bring joy to the surface. The excitement of togetherness.
Thanksgiving doesn’t always come easily to the heart heavy with grief or the soul battling weariness. For so many I know, this is a season of grieving, a season of recalculating their way of life, a season of struggle, of broken relationships, and of loss.
Sometimes–maybe oftentimes–it’s hard to give thanks.
Sometimes, giving thanks in the midst of sorrow feels like pouring from an empty cup. When your eyes are sore from long nights, your body aching, your soul breaking, heart crushed into a million pieces–it’s easy to feel too emptied out to look for over-running cups.
It’s a lot easier to just go through the motions. To play the part, be whoever it is we need to be for the holiday named Thanksgiving and move along into the next celebratory season.
But to take our weary hands and raise them in praise? To turn our tear-stained faces to heaven in song? To look beyond the noun that is Thanksgiving and towards the action of giving thanks? That is a battle hard fought. Gratitude can feel fake, maybe even forced.
But the truth is that gratitude is healing for the heartbroken.
To be a person of gratitude—a person who seeks to praise God for the big and small—is not to ignore or minimize the pain we may be facing. Pain remains painful, and sorrow remains sorrowful. But the heart that gives thanks is one that participates in an intentional act to live a life of joy amid trials.
But oh, how difficult it can be to pull up those blooming blessings without yanking up weeds of bitterness along with them.
The road to healing may be one containing detour after detour, loss after loss, let down after let down. But it is not one that is void of grace; it is not a road walked alone or without aid.
When your heart is broken from grief or your spirit heavy with uncertainty, it can feel impossible to be thankful. We can so easily fall into a spiral of “if only.” But a life of gratitude surpasses “if only,” and seeks to exist in the space of “even then.” Our hearts may think that if only we had that one thing, we could be happy. However, thanksgiving trusts that even if our dreams are withheld, even then He is good. Even then He is faithful. Even then we can be thankful.
Where our minds naturally look to what lies ahead, gratitude embraces what is and seeks to praise Him in whatever season that may be.
This year, Thanksgiving, once again, looks drastically different for me. I’m still battling my health in many ways, but in so many more ways I’ve never had so much to be thankful for.
Even still, it takes little to send me into a spiral of “if only.” It is difficult to remember, and really, that’s what thanksgiving–what gratitude–all comes back to: remembrance.
Remember the One who calls us Beloved.
Remember all the gifts He has given.
Take hold of your heart, and remind it of every gift, every blessing, every moment of sustaining grace. For though we cannot change the broken roads that lay behind or the ones that stretch ahead, we can preach thanksgiving to our souls.
Though we cannot see the purpose in every pain, we can see our God, who does nothing without intention. Despite how dark the night appears, there is always a break of dawn.
No matter the grief, there is always grace to be found.
Even on the days when your weariness feels especially overwhelming, still, His lovingkindness is there to surround you with shouts of deliverance.
So, we can push onward, despite our brokenness, knowing it is Jesus that holds us together. Never has there been a moment when He has not held us within His embrace; never have we walked alone.
There are good gifts from God everywhere.
There is joy to be found when we praise our God for all the beautiful things He has given to us. It may not change our situation, but it changes our perspective. We cannot mold life to fit what we think makes us happy, but we can give our hearts to the Potter who can mold us into joyful beings that seek to bring Him glory no matter where we are.
To have a heart of thanksgiving is to live differently from the rest of the world. To sing in the valley and praise in the storm is to go against human nature. But we have reason to sing; we have reason to praise. We know that our Savior is worthy of all honor and praise.
We know that joy comes with the morning because we know the One who beckons the morning to come.
In knowing our Savior and in trusting in His goodness, we can lift our hands in thanksgiving for all that He’s done and all He will do.
The pen that puts to paper the goodness of its God is the sword with which we fight the battle against bitterness.
Our circumstances in life will constantly shift and the pain of this world will persist, but His love for us never wavers. We can find rest in Jesus, who never changes, and whose love never ceases to reach beyond our weariness. And no matter how hard we may find it to reach our exhausted arms out to Him, He has never once let us go, and He never will.
There is thanksgiving for the soul that is weary.
There is restoration of faith in a season of uncertainty.
There is simple, child-like wonderment to be found, even still.
I’m learning that by remembering all that He has done–by putting to paper the ways He has proven to make a way when there didn’t seem to be one–I can better see how He is bending what was painful into perspective that beckons praise.
I build this altar with broken fingers:
I stitch the tattered seams of my heart by tracing tracks of grace that tether together pain and praise;
I find perspective in my pain when I draw near
to the One who pours out new mercies every morning;
and remembrance acts as a raft, a shelter, a steady hand
that guides my heart to where it needs to be to find healing,
to find peace,
to find thanksgiving–to find wonderment–for my weary soul.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18