Gratitude in Suffering
By Stefanie Bennett
As the Thanksgiving season approaches, we begin to pull our gratitude list out of the box as though we were unpacking winter sweaters. “Oh, I had forgotten I owned that!” or “I was wondering where this had gone.” We thank God for family, jobs, health, and homes that before this season had seemed like the white noise of our lives.
But the question that continues to gnaw at me is: “While these are all good things to be thankful for, how is being thankful for them any different than what every other American unbeliever is thankful for this season?
Without realizing it, we’re giving the message to the world that knowing Jesus is only about love, good gifts, the perfect family, health, and a beautiful home. If unbelievers already have these things without Jesus, why would they want Him?
As we reflect on what it means to be thankful this year, what about thinking about what gratitude is really about in light of the cross? In many ways, it’s really an equivalent to loving those who love you. That’s easy. No trouble. But Jesus challenges us to go deeper in our thinking about what the world sees and experiences. He says in Lk. 6:32-33, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.” We could apply the same principle to our gratitude. Even unbelievers are thankful on Thanksgiving.
But Jesus’ economy is always different. He continually turned the world upside down. And so we are forced to look at gratitude differently as well. The question now becomes: “What is different about our gratitude as Christians from those who don’t know Christ?” Certainly salvation is the immediate answer...but salvation is only the beginning from which greater depths of gratitude can be discovered.
So this Thanksgiving, I’d like to suggest a new way of thinking as you put together your gratitude list.
Gratitude in Suffering
Talk to anyone very long, and you will hear the ring of suffering in their story. But the message of the gospel is the message for the suffering. And we’re commanded to be thankful for it. First Thessalonians 5:18 say, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus .”
A woman most familiar with suffering and who epitomizes that verse is quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada. In her forward to Choosing Gratitude by Nancy De Moss, Joni writes:
“... many decades in a wheelchair have taught me to not segregate my Savior from the suffering he allows, as though a broken neck or in your case, a broken ankle, heart, or home merely ‘happens’ and then God shows up after the fact to wrestle something good out of it. No, the God of the Bible is bigger than that. Much bigger.
And so is the capacity of your soul. Maybe this wheelchair felt like a horrible tragedy in the beginning, but I give God thanks in my wheelchair…I’m grateful for my quadriplegia. It’s a bruising of a blessing. A gift wrapped in black. It’s the shadowy companion that walks with me daily, pulling and pushing me into the arms of my Savior. And that’s where the joy is…
Your ‘wheelchair,’ whatever it is, falls well within the overarching decrees of God. Your hardship and heartache come from His wise and kind hand and for that, you can be grateful. In it and for it.”
And so we can speak genuinely when we say we are grateful for our suffering, but only when Jesus is the most beautiful thing in the world to us. Then, anything that pushes us into His arms is a gift.
We all go through difficult times. But how often do we say “thank you” during those times? What are some tough things you’ve faced recently or are facing? This year, when you are giving thanks for the blessings of friends, family, work or home, give thanks for those difficult times, too. Show God gratitude for all things—good and bad—as He has instructed, and you will set yourself apart during this season of thanksgiving.