Thanksgiving involves giving thanks to God for who He is and what He has done for us. It involves praising God for His many gifts and blessings. However, giving thanks can be difficult when you are in a season of suffering.
Perhaps this year has been one hardship after another, and you are grieving rather than feeling grateful. Perhaps you have just experienced loss or are dealing with a painful family situation, and you don’t know how you can possibly “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise” (Psalm 100:4). Being thankful in times of suffering and hardship is certainly challenging but not impossible. We can thank God even when life is hard by remembering what God has done, is doing, and will do.
Remember what God has done
Our current pains and struggles can cloud the past. They can essentially cast a shadow over all the good that God has done for us, causing us to forget God’s past blessings and gifts. What are we to do when all we can see is our current pain?
The psalmists give us the answer.
In Psalm 105, the psalmist starts by exhorting the people to “give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; proclaim his deeds among the peoples” (Psalms 105:1). He goes on to encourage the people to “remember the wondrous works he has done, his wonders, and the judgments he has pronounced (Psalms 105:5). But the psalmist also provides a running list of God’s great deeds and wondrous works. He recounts how God protected Abraham and his offspring, worked through Joseph to bring relief from famine, and released Israel from slavery.
Recounting these past deeds and works encouraged God’s people to be thankful. In the same way, when you can’t see the good that God is doing in the present, consider what He has done in the past. Think back to the moments when God worked through a hard circumstance, brought about an unexpected blessing, or demonstrated His faithfulness to you. And most of all, consider Christ’s past work on the cross and the salvation He made possible for you. Then, allow those moments to remind you of God’s goodness, even in the here and now. He has been faithful to you in the past, and He will be faithful still, so give Him thanks for what He has done.
Remember what God is doing
When life is not going the way we planned, or our circumstances seem more sour than sweet, it is easy for us to fixate on what is wrong. But when we focus on what is grieving us, we can miss the good things that God is currently doing.
John Piper once wrote, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” God is doing much more for our good in our lives than we often see. Even the suffering we experience is ultimately for our good. Although we can't always know and see what God is doing, we can take a moment to consider what we can see. We can consider the ways in which we see evidence of His faithfulness, kindness, and grace.
For example, say that you are struggling to be thankful because you are dealing with a chronic medical condition. The healing always seems out of reach, and the pain fails to cease. But even with the pain, you experience nights when you sleep well. Even though the medical costs can be overwhelming, you find that you have enough to cover them. While you feel alone in your struggle, you have friends and family who are praying for you. These are all blessings from the Lord that can easily be missed if you don’t take the time to consider them.
So what blessings are you currently missing because you are focused on what is difficult? What is God doing for your good amid the bitterness, hurt, and pain? Take the time to consider these questions and then say a prayer of thanksgiving to God in light of what is revealed.
Remember what God will do
Just as suffering can cloud our past, seasons of suffering can also cloud our future. Current hardships can cause us to doubt God’s goodness in the present, making us see our future as just as grim as the present. But God promises a future of blessing for every follower of Christ. Ultimately, we know this to be true because of what Scripture says about eternity. God’s Word gives us promise after promise about what God will do for us one day.
Consider a few of these examples:
Our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject everything to himself. — Philippians 3:20–21
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely. And may your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will do it — 1 Thessalonians 5:23–24
God’s promises for the future encourage our joy and gratitude in the present. The more we dwell on what God will do, the more thankful we will be, even when our circumstances are weighty. Because God has already proven Himself faithful through Christ, we can be confident that God will be faithful to His future promises.
So if you find gratitude is few, open up God’s Word, read God’s promises, and thank God for all that He will do.
Additional resources for giving thanks when life is hard:
When Thankfulness Is Unnatural
Piper, John. “God is Always Doing 1000 Things in Your Life.” Desiring God. January 1, 2013.