I had a bad day.
There were no tragedies. Nothing serious happened. It just didn’t go well, and it left me in a mood that will probably affect the next few days. Even worse, I’ve got things weighing on my mind that have been bothering me for months or years – and at least one of which could have a negative impact going into the new year.
But in spite of all this, I still want to give thanks; and now seems like the perfect time, as the holiday approaches for that very occasion.
It’s easy for most of us to find reasons to be thankful, and I’m no exception. I still have my health. I still have my family. I still have a good job (for the moment), which has provided me with my own home and met all of my needs. It’s true, I have dreams that never came true and probably never will. That’s not always easy to accept, especially when I see other people find the kind of life I wanted. But for all the disappointment I sometimes feel, I have to appreciate what I have – and even what I don’t have.
For instance, I don’t have a mountain of debt. I don’t have a serious handicap or medical condition. I don’t have a lot of stress in my life. I don’t have to live with crippling grief or regret for the mistakes of my past. And I don’t have any of the lingering doubts I once had about my faith (or my worldview in general) with which so many people stumble through life. As a Christian, this is especially important, because I have nothing more worthy of thanks than the gift of salvation – the gift God offered all of us when He gave His son to die for our sins.
There have been times in my life when everything felt pointless, when I lost faith and hope in everything. Somehow, by the grace of God, I made it through, and I’m extremely thankful for that. I’m thankful for the struggles that made me who I am, even if I still don’t see the purpose in some of it. When I think of how low I’ve been, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed at how far I’ve come. I’m not talking about my own personal achievements; if I were, I would still be thankful for my success. No, I’m talking about the goodness of God in my life, even when things aren’t all that amazing. I’ve shaken my fist at the sky and let God down at every turn. Still, He’s with me. He’s brought me through a lot, though I’ve done nothing to deserve it or earn it. For that, I’m eternally grateful.
Yet I can go even further.
This week, I heard the personal story of Yeonmi Park, a woman who fled North Korea as a teenager to escape what sounds like The Hunger Games. Eventually, she set her sights on the United States, as so much of the world does, and it’s a good reminder that for all we might wish to change, there is no better place on Earth – nor has there been a better time to live – than this one.
It’s important, as we all know, to put things in perspective. We’re a very spoiled society now, and we often forget how much we have by forgetting how much others lack. I’m extremely thankful to have been born an American citizen, where people still have the freedom to live as we choose and say what we please. Despite all the crybabies and dirtbags who want to tear down our society in their demand for free stuff, we live in an amazing country that shouldn’t be taken for granted (and may not survive its current trajectory). I’m thankful for our freedom, even if so much of the population is too stupid now to recognize it for the gift that it is.
As a student of history, I know better. I’m thankful to live in the times that I do. Certainly, there are problems, and I think we’re experiencing some of the worst developments the human race has ever known – often brought about by our own abuse of good things. But I also know that much of the luxuries to which we think we’re entitled are really just anomalies in the course of human history. Almost everyone who lived before the last few generations experienced great hardship, which we all may be facing again in the near future. So even when I don’t have much, I refuse to ignore what I do; I know how precious and fragile life’s blessings really are.
Even when things are at their worst, I wake up in a comfortable house, never wondering how I’ll survive the week ahead. If the fridge is empty, food is never far away. And my idea of “financial distress” is less than a sizeable cushion in my checking account. Modern conveniences have essentially eliminated the struggles of the past – but recent events have reminded us how quickly and easily it could all be undone. This is something that’s been impressed upon me over the last decade or so, and I refuse to let myself forget: things could always be worse.
When I read of plagues, I’m thankful for modern medicine. When I read of old-fashioned labor, I’m thankful for innovation. When I read of slavery and persecution, I’m thankful for progress. When I read of war, I’m thankful for peace. I’ve learned this from history, but I don’t have to look back in time. The world is still full of troubles, as someone like Yeonmi Park can attest. And the decline of the last several years – especially since March of 2020 – has shown how near those troubles may be. My eyes are open to that fact, so I’ll continue to be thankful for what I have. Hopefully, others can see past the media storm and social panic to do the same.
But let’s remember who we give thanks to. We don’t thank fate or “the universe” for what we have. Thankfulness is a personal expression, not an emotion. Either we give thanks to God or we don’t give thanks at all. But we all know it’s good and right to be thankful for what we have. So, please, give thanks to God, and consider how much more you owe Him than that.
Things may not be going the way I would like; and I may not have the life I hoped for. But I have plenty to be thankful for. The Apostle Paul said we should give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and for all things (Ephesians 5:20) – good or bad – through Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:17). We should give thanks for the blessings of others (1 Timothy 2:1), which increases the glory of God as it grows (1 Corinthians 4:15). It is by giving thanks that I can bring my requests to God in prayer (Philippians 4:6 and Col. 4:2).
It’s good to thank God for the turkey, the pie, and all the good things to eat (1 Tim. 4:3). But let’s not forget to be thankful – in all things – in the days that follow.