Gratitude in the Hard Places

by Stephanie Thomas on

Articles 5 min read
1 Thessalonians 5:16–18

It’s November as I write this and Thanksgiving is around the corner, so naturally I’ve been thinking about gratitude. What I wanted to write was an article about helping our kids understand and practice thankfulness. But I can’t get my mind off the concept of gratitude in hard places. For example, how can you practice being grateful when you’re at the end of your rope and you just lost your job? Where is gratitude when your marriage is falling apart? How can you be grateful when you just got word that your father is terminal? Can you be thankful for your child when the principal calls daily? What if things are going from bad to worse? Where is gratitude in that?

We’ve all been in that place where the problems of the world seem to pull us under and hope is so far in the distance not even the most powerful set of binoculars will bring it into view. I remember years ago our family had a particularly rough week. I was a stay-at-home mom and it seemed we were always stretched precariously thin financially. Christmas was coming soon when our clothes washer broke, the kids all came home with lice and my car wouldn’t start. I’d love to say I handled that week with grace, but shamefully, I stamped my foot and cried big tears demanding God account for that nonsense. Looking back now I can chuckle at how mild the situation really was, but at the time it felt big and hard. In God’s wisdom, He brought a good friend to my side. She gently reminded me that my worst days were another person’s dream of stability. A home filled with love and laughter, food on the table, a car that could and would be fixed by a loving husband and father and amazing health insurance that would pay for, of all the ridiculous things, medicine to treat lice.

When hard pushes you against the wall, God offers the perfect antidote in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Rejoice always. Looking back, I’m reminded of what a special week we had. I had the chance to sit down and comb through my daughter’s hair for hours. We watched a million fairy movies and talked about cats and bunnies and all sorts of girly things. My husband played the hero, buying and installing a new car battery that we, thankfully, had the money to purchase. I discovered the laundromat is an incredible place where laundry for a whole family of six including towels and bedding can washed and dried in a snap. I was able to actually rejoice in the circumstances and have more time for Christmas fun! I don’t know if I’ll ever truly rejoice over God’s gift of lice, but if that’s what He allows so I’ll take notice of how He’s working in my life, I’ll take it.

Pray continually. Sadly, I’ve known lots of followers of Christ who say they don’t have time for prayer but they sure have a few minutes to watch TikTok videos or even a few hours to work out. Why does prayer seem so overwhelming? Prayer time doesn’t mean we’re dedicating hours of our life to monastic silence in a “war room.” One of the amazing attributes of God is that He’s an ever-present help in times of trouble. (See Psalm 46:1). We don’t have to have a set time, place, or method of prayer; He’s in the here and now, waiting for us to cry out to Him. Yes, we should have time set aside to abide in the Savior’s presence, but prayer is also valuable in the moment. It’s a quick praise for warding off a potential argument with your spouse. It’s a battle hymn and cry for help in the grip of temptation. It’s a begging for His words to offer a suffering friend in need. Prayer is a constant reorientation of our hearts toward our Almighty Savior.

Give thanks in all circumstances. Did Paul really mean all circumstances? Clearly, he didn’t have kids. His heart was never ruthlessly ripped from his chest with a 2:14 a.m. teenage confession. He never miscarried a miracle baby at 18 weeks. No number of shipwrecks or flogging can match the pain a godly parent feels when a child turns their back on the Lord. But Paul meant those circumstances, too. To be thankful amidst a pain so deep, so absolutely cruel, can only come for a heart trained to daily, desperately run into the presence of a Savior. Moment-by-moment, step-by-step, give thanks in all circumstances for without the hard we would forget His eternal goodness.

The only way to practice gratitude in the difficult situations is to remember God’s faithful deliverance. Gratitude isn’t based on your circumstances but a constant renewal of the heart. It’s an attitude of rejoicing because He took you out of the slimy pit and gently placed you on a firm foundation, a rock on which to stand (Psalm 40:2). Remember where you were and what God brought you out of as you rejoice, pray and give thanks.

About the Author

Stephanie Thomas is the Children's Minister at Central Bible Church.