Tomorrow is America's national day of Thanksgiving. It is usually easy for us to think of positive things for which we are thankful. Life. Family. Clean water. Food. Lots of food. Most people can come up with ten things they are thankful for. Some can come up with dozens.
But what about the bad stuff that happens in our lives? St. Paul admonished the Thessalonian Christians: In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. (I Thes. 5:18) How can he be serious? Why be thankful for the bad, the crappy, the awful, the unhappy stuff in life?
I receive prayer requests from hurting people every day. Some are infertile. Some have drug- or alcohol-addicted children or spouses. Some have a dying loved one. Some need a job. Some suffer from anxiety, depression, or panic attacks. Some are lonely. Some have cheating spouses. Some have just been diagnosed with an awful disease. Be thankful?
When we thank the Lord for the bad stuff it goes against every human instinct. It is an act of our will - an act of hope - and every act of the will against despair is healing to the soul. Lord, in the midst of all of this, I know You are at work. I don't understand it. Please take it away. Thank you, Lord, for allowing this to happen. Teach me to trust You more.
The bad stuff can point us to the bad stuff that turned into good stuff in our past. Think about it. Is there a time in your life when everything was upside down, you were miserable, and yet looking back you can see how God used that for your ultimate good? Think of breakups with bad boyfriends/girlfriends. Think of failures that led you to take a new direction. Think of sins that have been forgiven, mistakes made and never made again. When we can look back and see how God has worked in our lives, despite the bad stuff, our faith is strengthened; our hearts grow a little bigger. We see how He was involved when we may have felt abandoned. It is a good practice to look back and see all the ways God has made the crooked roads straight in our lives. It gives us perspective for the suffering of today.
When we thank God for the bad stuff, we emulate Jesus Christ. In the Garden He asked God to take away the suffering He knew was to come, and yet He ended His plea with, "Thy will be done." When we are in the midst of the worst suffering and can say to God (even if it hurts) "Thy will be done," we are doing what Jesus did. Everything Jesus did was pleasing to God. When we thank God in the middle of pain, we step out in faith. We are saying, "I trust in You."
Finally, when we make an act of the will to be thankful, we unite ourselves in a mysterious way to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We climb up on the cross with Him. We crawl into the wounds of the spikes in his hands and feet. We hang there and hurt, with Jesus, in Jesus. And our suffering is united to His. Christ's suffering saves the whole world. That means, when united to Jesus in our suffering, our suffering saves the world too.
Suffering in Christ, with Christ, is a huge mystery. A mystery is something so big we can't wrap our little brains around it. A mystery is revealed to us to be true and we take it as true by an act of Faith. Putting our faith in God in the midst of trouble makes our Faith Muscle stronger. It helps us cope. It helps us have hope. And it helps us to be compassionate towards all those who suffer. One day, all suffering will be wiped away. In the meantime, we are called to be thankful. It isn't easy. On a Friday Jesus was tortured and died. On Sunday He rose from the dead, triumphant.
Have hope, and be thankful. Do it not because it feels good, but because you believe in God's promise. Sunday is coming!
I am a Catholic wife, mom and grandma. In 1995, after Bible college and a few years as an Evangelical Missionary, I was received into the Church at the Easter Vigil. These are my personal musings on Scripture, prayer, and living close to Jesus.