In Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts, she talks about giving thanks for all things. She spends most of the book focusing on gratitude for the small things like the moon and flowers and chocolate, but she includes the exhortation that is is necessary to give thanks even for tough circumstances. She calls this hard eucharisteo. It is hard to give thanks for the tough things. How do we give thanks for a chronically sick child or a dying friend or financial devastation? How do we go about actually feeling gratitude for those things? Voskamp suggests that we begin with the words and the feelings will follow. Gratitude opens our eyes to good.
If you are struggling to be thankful for hard circumstances, start by thanking God for the fruit. When God brings you something that you do not like, something hard, we know that it is for our good. As we thank Him for our circumstances, our eyes are opened to fruit in us that He is using this hardship to grow. Pruning, although painful, produces a generous harvest. But you may still struggle to see the fruit because it takes time to grow. If you struggle to see fruit, give thanks for the idols that you see crashing down. I have often found my hardships to be perfectly aimed at my own personal idols. I have found that God brings hardship to the area of my life which I have started to love more than Him. The hardship tears my idols apart, until only God is left to bring me joy.
Before I had children, I loved saying yes to everything. I loved being involved with every event that I could, I loved running events, I loved being involved with my church and school. If there was something to sign up for, my name was on the list. While this is not a sin, I began to make an idol out of it. I found so much self-gratification out of serving the community this way, that it drove many of my decisions and even friendships. I took great pride in being dependable. Then God gave me a baby that needed more from me than I had imagined. I found that it was nearly impossible to commit to anything. I was home most of the time trying to figure out nap schedules and nursing and swaddling and how to comfort a colicky baby. I was lonely. I felt like I was not doing anything worthwhile because nobody could see anything I was doing. God took my idols of “community involvement” and “people pleasing” and smashed them. I had to look to Him for joy and value.
Seasons of life bring their own unique challenges and hardships. We can welcome the hardships because we know that God uses hardships like a sword, tearing down all the things that stand between us and Him. Give thanks for all the things that are falling. Maybe you have are gifted athletically, but you have an injury that will take months to heal. Give thanks that God will not let you make an idol out of fitness. Maybe you have always wanted to be married, but the circumstances have not worked out that way yet. Give thanks that God will not let you make an idol out of marriage. Maybe you excel in hospitality, but chronic illness is keeping you from opening your home. Give thanks that God will not let you make an idol our of hospitality. Maybe you extremely talented in your field of work, but babies or aging parents are requiring you to spend more time at home. Give thanks that God will not let you make an idol out of work.
It is not uncommon for the Lord to test us on the things we love the most. When He asked Abraham for the life of his son, He wanted to see Abraham’s devotion to Him. God wanted to see that Abraham loved Him with his whole heart. God wanted Abraham to see that he loved Him with his whole heart. When you are asked to lay your most prized possession on an altar, prepare to see all your idols crashing down around you. No matter how much joy they may bring you, when your idols crash you find that God is your only comfort, and that is the sweetest place to be.