Learning to be Thankful When Life Hurts

I had a breakdown outside of Safeway the day before Thanksgiving. Running to my car in the rain, I slammed the door behind me to endure my ugly cry in solitude. The trip should have been painless; I just needed to pick up a few last minute items. Yet, stopping by the florist department on my way to the checkout counter, set me heart into a tailspin. As I delicately placed a bouquet in my cart, the tears welled behind my eyes. Realization hit hard – while most of my friends were baking pies and cooking with their moms that afternoon, I was left to only deliver flowers to the cemetery. Holidays are hard. Triggers are everywhere.

Wiping my eyes in the parking lot, I pondered this question…

How do we be thankful when life hurts so bad?

I have spent most of these past two years learning how to be grateful for the days I have been given, despite grieving the loss of my mom. Keeping a gratitude journal has helped, opening my eyes to small blessings along the way. Continuing to serve in our youth group has provided new reasons to be grateful, seeing the ways God is at work. Creating new experiences with my husband and girls has brought fresh memories and laughter. Though despite these things some days my heart just hurts and joy is hard to find.

Pain is a guaranteed part of this life. As much as I hate this truth, it is reality. This fallen, broken world is full of suffering. People will die, circumstances will disappoint us, and we will make decisions that create a mess sometimes. The question isn’t WHETHER we will suffer, WHEN it will come, or WHAT it will be. The thing we must ask ourselves is  HOW we will respond to it.  Will I wallow in my self pity or constantly grumble to my Creator? Will I doubt His goodness at every turn, denouncing His genuine love for me? Will I become paralyzed with fear, dreading the path that lies ahead?

Or will I trust His words, His promises, His faithfulness?

I cling to the very words of Jesus in John 16:33,

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

A few verses before this truth, Jesus reminds us, “Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” (vs 21-22)

There will  be seasons where we weep and mourn while others around us are content and happy. It isn’t their fault, just as it isn’t ours. Healing comes as we sit with Jesus in this grief, giving ourselves permission to feel the feels and mourn the losses. As our heart begins to heal, Jesus promises that our sorrow will be turned to joy. Only through fellowship with Him, can we release our stories into His care, trusting that one day soon, when we enter His presence, our tears will be wiped away and our joy will be complete, never to be shaken again.

Thankfulness comes when I reflect on the truth that, though our pain is temporary, God has eternal purpose for it. Oftentimes, He takes the hardest pieces of our story and weaves them into the lives of others, bringing hope and encouragement along the way. Refashioning our grief into a beautiful picture of redemption, He doesn’t let our suffering be in vain.

Our hardships can actually be one of the most powerful instruments God uses to help heal other people.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 teaches, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”

I woke up the morning of Thanksgiving with names on my lips. Names and faces of families I know who are hurting. People we love who have lost family members, endured significant suffering, or experienced much pain. The list isn’t short. The longer I live, the more suffering there seems to be. Maybe because we are growing older. Perhaps because our sphere of community is bigger. Most likely because I am just more aware. Being able to support and comfort others has been one of the greatest joys of this past two years for me. Though I wish I could reverse time and take away their grief, I am thankful to be able to enter in. To hear and understand their heart even though our stories are different, our pain unique, are circumstances only ours.

The truth of Scripture and the way God is redeeming my pain have helped me be thankful in this tough season of sorrow. Even on the hardest days, I have learned to trust that He is for me, He is good, and His purposes are far better than what my eyes can see.

If you are experiencing pain today, be still and rest. Soak in the truth that God has overcome yesterday, today, and whatever tomorrow brings. Be assured that He sees you, hears your groaning, and will use your sorrow to bring others closer to His heart.

And take courage, “Jesus has overcome this world.”

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