Paste on a smile and give thanks already! Right?

‘Tis the season to give thanks.

Merriam-Webster defines thankful as “conscious of benefit received; well pleased; glad.”

I read this today and thought, “Hmm…I’m not always glad or well-pleased, even when I am thankful…or does that mean I’m not really thankful?”

And then I considered the phrase “conscious of benefit received.” Is it possible to recognize our benefits or blessings, but not be glad?

My family and I traveled all over the U.S. this summer. One truth struck me everywhere we went.

People are struggling. They’re suffering. They’re dealing with family loss, marriages falling apart, unimaginable health issues, loss of babies, financial stress, natural disasters, kids growing up and making scary choices about their lives.

And yet, many of these people astonish me by their gracious attitudes toward life. People who “should” complain, “should” feel anger at God and the world; they find faith in the midst of their trials.

And they are thankful.

I heard them say, “I give thanks for God’s grace. I see the blessings in my life.”

It’s led me to reflect on what it really means to be thankful. And I feel challenged to check my own heart for a thankful attitude.


Thankful is not Fake Smiles

Being thankful isn’t blissful ignorance of the hardships in life. It isn’t pretending everything is great when in reality, life is killing you at the moment. It’s not about fake smiles and happy feelings.

And it’s not necessarily giving thanks for the trials themselves.

The people who shared with me their challenges and yet remain thankful, they are not pretending or ignoring. They admit to their pain and sadness. They don’t shove their hardships under the proverbial rug.

My friends, this is not a call to abandon grief.

But I’m learning from others the following truth: giving thanks is to consciously decide that my focus will be positive. I can fix my attention on the blessings God has given me instead of the trials or disappointments I feel. I can be “conscious of benefit received.”

There are parts of our lives that bring pure joy, and for those it’s easy to give thanks. And there are other parts that bring pain and sorrow, which we tend to wish away. I do!

But even in those parts, we can find benefit received if we will look for it. If we do not see it now, we can have hope that it will come. And we can choose to be thankful, maybe not for the hardships themselves, but for some lesson learned, some comfort received.

So, here are a few things I’m thankful for this holiday season. Some are pure joy, and others are a combination of sadness and thankfulness. But in all these things, I’m choosing to be conscious of benefit received.

I am saved by the grace of Jesus Christ. I did nothing to deserve it and everything to earn His judgment. And yet, He loves me and lives in me every single day.

God has fully provided for my family’s needs. We have a comfortable home. We’re safe and not hungry.

I have family and dear friends all over the world. We are blessed to love so many!

My husband is healthy. He battled cancer this year. I remember laying in bed at night with nightmares of telling our four year old that Papa isn’t coming home. I hated that season of life, full of doubts and fears. I’m not thankful Josh had cancer. But I’m thankful that if we had to go through it, at least our marriage came out stronger as a result. I wouldn’t choose to repeat that time, but I recognize the good that came from it. And now, I’m thankful Josh is cancer free!

I have two healthy and mostly happy children. I admit that I don’t always love being a full time mama. Sometimes it’s mundane and frustrating enough that I want to pull out my hair. But, our children are beautiful and one of the greatest joys I can imagine. They are a gift I do not deserve.

I have a marriage that works. It’s not perfect. We disagree with each other, argue once in a while. We don’t always feel like falling into each other’s arms in rapturous joy. But we love each other, and we’re committed, till death do us part. We both choose every day to work at this relationship and strive for it to be the very best it can be. I’m still married to my best friend.

I have Titus, our 18-month old son. When I look at his sweet face, my heart is filled with intense and conflicting emotions that are hard to reconcile. We lost a baby before him. It was a heart-shattering experience that still brings tears some days. But, I look at Titus and know he would not be here if our second babe had survived. I sorrow for the one we lost and could not be more thankful for the one who is here. We almost lost Titus, too. The doctors told us he was a miracle. Perhaps more than anything else in my life, I am wholly conscious of the benefit received in our Titus, while also reminded of the sorrows that preceded him.

What are you thankful for?

Your turn to consider.

What are you thankful for this season? What are the pure joys and what are those parts of life that take a bit more effort to be conscious of the benefit received?

Don’t push away sorrow or grief. It’s ok to be honest if you’re angry. But look for the benefit in every part of your life. And if you don’t see it now, hold onto hope that God will  bring some good in the future.

I’m so far from being great at this, but I’m learning from others with unimaginable trials. If they are choosing to be thankful, I have the hope to think I can do the same.

“I had, even in this miserable condition, been comforted with the knowledge of Himself, and the hope of His blessing: which was a felicity more than sufficiently equivalent to all the misery which I had suffered, or could suffer.”  

Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

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