By Kelly Wright
Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday for as long as I can remember. I was born the day before Thanksgiving and not only do I associate it with my birthday, but I love the traditions of this holiday. Pumpkin pie, Turkey Trax, and being with family are all highlights of the day. But beyond family and food, I love the idea that at Thanksgiving we give our thanks away. We share our thanks with others and the impact of giving thanks not only benefits us, but to those we share with.
One tradition I love that we do at VU is Feast Forums. We celebrate with a Thanksgiving meal for employees and then, open mic style, one by one, people share what they are grateful for. Some share the highlights of life going well and others share struggles they are encountering. For both, the act of giving thanks names their realities and benefits all who get to hear their hearts.
The key to giving thanks is that gratitude is for all seasons in our lives. We aren’t just to be thankful when things are going well. We are invited to give thanks in the midst of the highs and lows.
Positive Psychology has done a lot of research on the power of gratitude through the years. One study done at an inpatient facility for severely depressed patients found that after twenty-one days of jotting down five things they were thankful for, depressed patients were able to lower their symptoms of depression.
Psychology, however, wasn’t the first to let us know that gratitude does our hearts good. The Bible is filled with verses encouraging us to be thankful.
Philippians 4:6-7 says, “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.
Paul tells us that when we are anxious – no matter what the situation – to pray with thanksgiving and then present your requests to God.
As someone who struggles with bouts of anxiety, this instruction has been very helpful when I experience anxiety. When I notice stress or anxiety, I begin to pray, starting first with giving thanks. No matter what the situation is about, there is always space for gratitude.
Recently I was feeling overwhelmed and experienced a wave of anxiety. I started down the path of negative thinking and then remembered Paul’s encouragement from Philippians 4. Instead of adding more stress by negative self-talk, I started praying, giving thanks in the midst of the situation.
Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians 5, that we can be thankful in all circumstances, even though we aren’t necessarily thankful for all circumstances.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-17 - Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
This encouragement from Paul is easy to do when life is going great. Even though we may take our times of ease for granted, it’s much easier to be thankful when we are healthy, have plenty, and life is going our way. But Paul’s instruction isn’t just for the good times. He says to rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances.
The distinction to remember is to give thanks in all circumstances, not for all circumstances. You don’t have to be thankful for the bad things that happen in your life. But you can thank God in the midst of it.
Even in the midst of trials, there are things to be grateful for.
When my son was 18 months old, he was diagnosed with a blood disorder that took two and half years to resolve. There were so many challenges during that season, but one thing that kept my heart afloat was finding things to be grateful for. I was so grateful for the staff at my doctor’s office and the tech that drew my son’s blood at least once a week. They were kind and compassionate and took such great care of us in simple, but significant ways. I wasn’t thankful for his blood disorder, but I was thankful in the midst of it.
As you give thanks this year, what are some things you are grateful for in your life? What are some things that even though you are not grateful for them, you are grateful for in the midst of them?