Giving Thanks in Hard Times

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Leanne Benfield Martin shares how we can learn the discipline of gratitude during trials.

The day Donna Lott was told to hand over her car keys for good changed her life forever. Proclaimed legally blind, she could no longer drive to the grocery store, her sons’ school, or the homes of friends. Unless her husband or someone else gave her a ride, she was stranded at home. She was 35 years old.

An active wife and mother, my friend Donna had been gradually losing her eyesight to the disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). Even while she struggled to accept what her diagnosis would mean, she began having difficulty cooking and cleaning, fixing her hair and makeup, and eventually, identifying her sons’ faces. Today, the lighting in many environments, whether at a restaurant, a store, or church, proves challenging. Special computer equipment helps her read and write, study, and e-mail, but her eyes fatigue quickly.

The surprising result of her experience is that as Donna’s vision became weaker and more distorted, her spiritual acuity sharpened. Her private times with the Lord grew more meaningful as she cried out to Him, and she began to perceive His love for her more clearly, sensing His purpose in allowing her to suffer this way. Even on the days she couldn’t imagine what that purpose could be—which was most of them—she gave thanks anyway.

You Mean Now?

Scripture commands us to give thanks. “Bless the Lord at all times,” the psalmist wrote (34:1). And the apostle Paul echoed that sentiment in his letter to the Thessalonians when he said, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ” (5:18). As hard as this may be to swallow, “in everything” means in both good and bad times—even when we don’t feel like it. Gratefulness comes easy with a solid marriage, good kids, and money in the bank. But what about when the marriage implodes, kids rebel, or account balances dwindle?

When hard times come, we can choose to turn away from God. But hardening our heart toward Him in anger or denial hampers our ability to deal with suffering in a healthy way—making it difficult to hear His voice and receive comfort or strength. Gratitude is the gate through which we must pass to become increasingly aware of the Father’s goodness in the midst of our trying circumstances. We need to practice the discipline of giving thanks even more during the hard times, because through it, God not only transforms our suffering, but He also transforms us.

Reasons to Give Thanks

Like Donna, if we are open to the Lord during hard times, we soon realize how dependent on Him we are, and that all of life is a gift. But humankind has always had a difficult time holding on to this perspective. Think back to the Garden of Eden: when Eve reached for the fruit, she was reaching for independence, and we’ve been grasping for it ever since. Instead of accepting our dependence on God and being grateful for Him and His ways, we insist on living life according to our own solutions and grow frustrated when He doesn’t follow our plans. Then suffering grabs our attention like a severe weather warning. Our circumstances seem to communicate, Not only is it going to get rough, but you are not in control.

Though seeing trials this way is difficult, the Lord lets us endure them out of His mercy—so we might realize once again that He alone is our Source. Trials, then, become an opportunity to return to Him. Here we see how what appears to be for harm, God can use for good. And recognizing His power to transfigure our suffering into something beautiful is what allows us to give thanks in the midst of the pain we feel. A thankful heart is possible only through humility. As clergyman Henry Ward Beecher—father of American novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe—said, “An humble mind is the soil out of which thanks naturally grow.” By setting down pride and contrasting our lowliness with God’s greatness, we understand, perhaps for the first time, that He is wholly other and beyond anything we can imagine. We marvel that the Most High not only created us but also made a way through His Son for us to know Him intimately. When we truly grasp how far He had to reach to pull us from the pit, we become filled with a gratitude that transcends the direst of circumstances.

Pain and suffering also can tenderize our hearts toward other people. God comforts us so we can comfort others (2 Cor. 1:3-5). After my marriage crumbled ten years ago, I found that my compassion for others increased five-fold, while my tendency to judge others decreased. Though my situation remained painful, I felt grateful for the change God brought about in me through it. We can give thanks not only that God comforts us but also that He can use us to comfort others who are suffering.

Easy Does It

Hard times can seem to drag on forever, yet Paul called them “momentary, light affliction” (2 Cor. 4:17). He could write those words despite having suffered persecution, imprisonment, beatings, shipwreck, snakebites, and more. By his words and example, he urged us to focus on the eternal. Even trials that last a lifetime on earth pass in an instant, compared to eternity.

“When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude,” wrote G. K. Chesterton in his book Irish Impressions. We can never be too grateful for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross or for the empty tomb. Remembering that ?He suffered, too, can move us to take comfort in and be grateful for what He’s accomplishing through our circumstances—even when His purpose is not yet evident. If we allow Him, He can use our suffering to transform our lives. The fruit of yielding to Him will be a better understanding of His suffering and limitless love for us. And at that point, we just might be surprised at how easy giving thanks becomes.

 

This article was selected from In Touch magazine.

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