Giving Thanks

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Giving Thanks
by Kristi Bothur © 2011

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Phil. 4:6-7

Thanksgiving is coming up soon – one of my favorite holidays, in part because it has managed to avoid the stain of commercialism over the decades. Unlike Christmas and Easter, no one has attempted to make Thanksgiving Day anything other than what it is – a day to focus on our blessings and turn our face toward heaven in gratitude for all God has given us.

Keeping the holiday of Thanksgiving pure is one thing. Maintaining an attitude of thanksgiving the other 364 days of the year is more challenging, especially when you are going through a difficult season of life. Thanksgiving Day of 2009 was especially difficult for me. I was still mourning the loss of our daughter Naomi from six months before, only to undergo a second miscarriage the Friday before Thanksgiving. My body had not yet recovered from my two abdominal surgeries of the spring, and I was anticipating another surgery in a few short weeks, this one to check for the possibility of thyroid cancer. My mood was dark, my heart was broken, and giving thanks was the furthest thing from my mind. Give thanks? For what? For children who should be around the table, but aren't? For illness? For pending surgery? For financial stress and for strained relationships? I survived that Thanksgiving, but that is all.

Since then, I've given a lot of thought to what the Bible teaches about giving thanks. One of the verses I've meditated on is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, " Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."

That is a tall order. To rejoice, and pray, and give thanks in all circumstances – even the hard ones. Is that humanly possible? But the key to it is in the phrase that follows: "for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." God is all about molding us to the image of his Son, and these phrases describe the life of Jesus. Although a "man of sorrows", he always rejoiced in His Father; his followers knew him as a man of prayer; and even in the hours before he knew he would be betrayed and killed, he broke bread and gave thanks. If this is God's will for me, and for you, will he not equip us to do it?

One thing to note – he doesn't command us to give thanks for all circumstances, but in all circumstances. In other words, in whatever situation we find ourselves, we must find the gifts and the blessings of that moment and give thanks for that. This is not to minimize our pain, but to help us find His grace in the midst of it. If we can't think of anything to be thankful for, we ask God to show us – and He will. Small things like a cool breeze or a pleasant fragrance. Bigger things like the kind words of a friend, a comforting touch, good medical care, a roof over our heads. And even bigger things - the love of God, salvation, the promise of eternity.

And somewhere along the way, we notice that we are no longer focusing on the gifts, but on the goodness of the Giver. Perhaps that is the reason for the promise of Philippians 4:6-7. When we, instead of giving into anxiety, choose instead to lift our faces and voices to God in prayer and thanksgiving, we are promised that the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds. Why? Because in that moment, we are looking at God in all his goodness and splendor, and in the words of an old praise song, "the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace."

If Thanksgiving is hard for you this year, test His promise of peace. Present your requests to God – but do it with thanksgiving, looking for the little things to be thankful for. It may not take away all of the pain in your heart, but it will bring peace for your soul.

Father, Thanksgiving seems trite sometimes in light of my struggles and trials. It is so hard to find things to be thankful for, and when I do voice them, I feel like a hypocrite. Please fill my heart with thanksgiving not only this November 24, but the other days of the year, too. Help me to focus on You over my circumstances, and to see your goodness in all things. Amen.

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