My family has a tradition at Thanksgiving for each of us to share a few things we are thankful for. Maybe your family has a similar tradition. I think it’s valuable to think about and express the things we are grateful for.
A New Twist on an Old Tradition
A few years ago, my dad added a new twist on the Thanksgiving tradition. In addition to expressing gratitude for the things in our life that were going well, my dad encouraged us to think about one thing that has been difficult for us over the past year. Then, the challenge was to identify something about the difficult thing we were grateful for.
It’s easy to feel grateful when things are going well. Real life, however, is a mix of good and bad. It can be challenging to feel grateful when you are dealing with things like losing a job, going through a divorce, or cancer. I know for me this year, I have been struggling to recover from a broken tailbone. It’s difficult to feel thankful when I’m uncomfortable and in pain.
But I wonder, even in the difficult things, if there might be one thing you could identify that is positive. Maybe you learned an important lesson as you dealt with the difficult situation. Perhaps going through the tough thing in your life helped develop part of your character, or made you stronger in some way. Maybe the loss helped you focus your energy on the things in your life you value most.
“Rejoice” in Our Trials?
There is a passage in the book of Romans I really like. Paul is writing about the peace and hope we have in God. But this peace and hope isn’t limited to when things are going great. Here is what he says:
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. Then, when that happens, we are able to hold our heads high no matter what happens and know that all is well, for we know how dearly God loves us, and we feel this warm love everywhere within us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. (Rom 5:3-5)
Paul went through some tough stuff in his life. He was beaten, persecuted, almost died at sea, and was thrown in jail multiple times. Still, he seemed to have a joy that transcended his circumstances. I wonder if part of his secret was an ability to experience gratitude even in the midst of difficulty and adversity.
Action Step: What is one difficult thing you have dealt with this past year? Spend a few minutes writing about what happened. Now try to think about one positive thing you can take away from the difficult experience. Did you learn anything about yourself through the challenging experience? Was there any part of your character that developed as a result of what you had to go through? Did the experience help you focus your energy and passion on what was really important in your life?