Giving Thanks When Your Heart is Aching

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-20)

Give thanks always, we read. This is a command more readily fulfilled when life is smooth and all is well. Our list of blessings runs long, and our thanksgiving is free flowing.

But how do we give thanks when our hearts are aching? How do we give thanks when reality is grim and our world is crumbling?

For many of us, the season of Thanksgiving is warm and filled with joy. But for others, it is a season of deep pain. Some of you will face the aching empty chair of a beloved family member or friend. Some of you have families so riddled with hurt and dysfunction that you try to stay as far away as possible. Some of you are facing dark days, whether through unemployment, conflict, mental illness, or shattered dreams.

During the holiday season, when it feels as though everyone else is happy and content, our quiet hurts can feel painfully lonely and isolating. It can be difficult to give thanks, when reminders of what we lack or what we’ve lost seem repeatedly thrust in our faces. It is then that joy and thanksgiving become a battle. As we fight for vision to see God’s good hand in the midst of suffering, our list of blessing begins to change.

Thank you, Lord, for hope beyond this life, when you will wipe every tear away and there will be no more death or pain or sorrow.

Thank you, Lord, for the freeing truth that I do not have to fix the world.

Thank you, Lord, for the promise that your grace is sufficient for me and that your strength is perfect, even when I am at my weakest.

Thank you, Lord, that your presence with me and faithfulness towards me are not dependent on my feelings.

Thank you, Lord, for knowing my heart when I don’t have words to pray.

Thank you, Lord, for your peace which passes all human understanding.

Thank you, Lord, for a glimmer of joy and a moment without tears, for a glimpse of beauty, for an unexpected burst of laughter.

Thank you, Lord, that pain is not pointless and that you do not delight in our suffering. Thank you that you are the Redeemer of pain.

Thank you, Lord, for teaching me greater compassion and understanding so that I can help other people in the future.

Thank you, Lord, for a Gospel that teaches me that you came when I was helpless and needy and not when I had it all together.

We can give thanks in pain. We can give thanks when our heart is breaking, with tears slipping down our cheeks. Though our lists of blessings may shift, we can find reason for thanksgiving because the One who is the giver of all good gifts, who is strength for the weak and a refuge for the brokenhearted—He is faithful. God's faithful promises hold out hope that our pain is not all there is, and our pain is not the end. And for this, we can give thanks.