Journey into Thankfulness
By Nancy Slack
The sky was a wintry shade of blue, and the air smelled like salt. We’d driven to the coast for the weekend, but it was hard to notice the scenery. My husband wanted to move back to Arkansas. I wanted to stay in Texas. We had just argued again over whether or not we should move.
I slammed the car door and headed down the beach. “God,” I said, “aren’t You ever going to help us?” I climbed the sea wall, headed past a picnic table and stopped. I remembered this place.
Three months before, I had sat at this same table. I had been praying then, too, about a relationship that was strained. “This is hopeless,” I had thought. “God won’t help me.”
But He had. In a series of small miracles and little promptings by the Holy Spirit, God had healed that relationship. I sat at the table and put my head in my hands. “God, I’m sorry,” I said. “You do so much for me, and I don’t even thank You for it.”
And maybe that lack of thankfulness was causing more problems than anything else in my life. I remembered a verse, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank him for his answers” (Phil. 4:6, TLB).
Thank Him? I didn’t have time. Instead, I began praying about the next problem. No wonder I was such an anxious person. Fear was the center of my life, not God. Instead of focusing on my needs, God wanted me to focus on Him. And thankfulness was the key.
But becoming a thankful person turned out to be more difficult than I thought. I needed to work through the misconceptions I held about thankfulness first.
Thankfulness is not important.
After we returned from the coast, I thought about my current approach to difficulties:
- Focus on the problem and pray constantly.
- Get angry if God doesn’t fix it immediately.
- When God does fix it, see the miracle as something that would have happened anyway. Ignore any coincidences between prayer and real life.
- Immediately focus on the next problem. Pray compulsively about that.
I remembered how our pastor had prayed, thanking God for health, rain, and love. “I wish he’d quit wasting time and get to the good stuff.”
Good stuff. Maybe that was my real difficulty. I didn’t think it was important to be thankful. I saw prayer as a Christmas wish list and thankfulness as a card sent for a present already opened, because I was driven by a sense of need. All I wanted to do was rip open the next present, not being grateful for what I already had.
Thankfulness allowed me to recognize God’s intervention in the past, helping me to trust Him in the future. I might not be able to see answers to prayer from day to day, but when I looked back, I could clearly see thousands of ways God had intervened in my life.
I had always thought that thankfulness was for God’s benefit, but the real benefit was to me. Gratitude substituted worry with faith; it replaced focusing on the problem with focusing on God.
Thankfulness means pretending that problems don’t really exist.
Our family argument over relocating finally resolved. We moved to Arkansas. With my new perspective, I could see that God was helping us in many ways. Our house sold quickly. My new job was both fulfilling and fun. People in our family moved with us.
I knew I should be grateful for all of it, but when I’d look at the mountain of boxes to unpack, my throat tightened and my teeth clenched. I liked my job – but when I’d look at my list of things to do, tears pressed my eyes. I didn’t feel grateful. I felt overwhelmed.
One day while driving to work Phil. 4:6 came to mind. But this time it was highlighted in a new way. “Tell God your needs,” Paul said. He didn’t say to pretend that you don’t have any. God wanted me to surrender all those problems to Him.
I tried to believe that the difficulties in moving didn’t bother me. But that wasn’t really true. God didn’t want me to ignore feelings of grief, anger, and confusion. He wanted me to surrender my problems to Him and let Him help me with them. I could thank God because He would go through every problem with me.
Thankfulness only applies when God makes life easy or pleasant.
Now I had a new determination: to practice prayers of both petition and thanksgiving. I spilled out all of my worries to God each morning. I recorded answers to some of these prayers. The terrible anxiety that had always lived inside me began to decrease.
One Sunday, our pastor talked about thankfulness in difficult situations. “Pressure from outside sources can be a good thing,” he said. “God uses circumstances to change and develop us, leading us toward a deeper relationship with Christ.”
I thought about that over the next few weeks. Was I grateful when my problems broke my reliance on my own strength? Hardly. I was thankful only when I could see clearly how God had helped me. I was grateful when God made my life easy and pleasant. I needed to learn a new form of thankfulness – to be glad for any situation that made me rely on Christ.
I resisted doing this, because I didn’t feel grateful for difficulties. They filled me with resentment and fear. But God, I finally realized, didn’t require me to feel happy about difficulties. I could practice thankfulness with the one thing I could control - my will.
I wondered if a bone in my spiritual body had just been reset. This kind of thankfulness was an act of faith, trusting that God was powerful enough to use anything – even the hard things – to bring me closer to Him.
Now I can look back on our move and see the many good things that God brought into my life through the upheaval. The difficulties I had in my job forced me to stop depending on myself. And though I miss my friends from Texas, I am grateful that the isolation made me open to a wonderful prayer group here – with my husband. Praying together has brought a spiritual closeness that might never have developed.
The biggest change occurred in my prayer life. My lack of thankfulness was a spiritual sickness, producing prayer that bordered more on compulsion than surrender. Ingratitude ate a hole in my faith, caused anxiety about the future, and prevented me from trusting God. I believe God healed this spiritual illness by teaching me to be thankful.
Thankfulness recognizes God’s love and care for us and helps us rest in His provision. Gratitude gives us a glimpse of a greater reality because it acknowledges and keeps us in tune with the true nature of God.
“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Ps. 107:1)