Gratitude and Grief

“…always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Ephesians 5:20


Father son oceanA well-loved and highly respected man in our church passed away recently, just ten days before Father’s Day.  He had lung cancer.  He left a wife and three children, ranging from their teens to early twenties.

On Father’s Day, his oldest son stood up and shared a beautiful poem he had written for his father and had read at his funeral service.  It was a celebration of this man’s life and a reflection of gratitude for all that he had done for his family.

It’s not easy to be thankful when we’re hurting.  It’s much more natural to wallow in the pain.  And yet, the apostle Paul instructs us to give thanks for everything—both the good and the bad (see Ephesians 5:20).  So, how do we give thanks when we’re hurting?  How do we feel gratitude in the midst of our pain?

Well, gratitude is a choice.  We can make a conscious choice to be thankful.  This particular family chose to be thankful for the years they did have with their husband and father, rather than mourning the years they would have to wait until they joined him in heaven.  They chose to be grateful to God for taking him home, and for relieving him from the terrible suffering and pain they had watched him go through in those horrible final weeks, instead of wishing he was still there.

I’m sure it isn’t always easy.  I know they wish they had a dad they could hug.  They wish he was around to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding.  They wish he was there to cheer for them and watch proudly as they graduate and receive their college diplomas.  But they have made a choice—a choice to be thankful.

And, like them, no matter what we may be facing, no matter what pain we may experience, we, too, can always choose to be thankful.

Have you ever heard the saying, “I was unhappy because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no legs”?  This is the kind of mentality we can choose too.  There is always someone who’s worse off than we are.  We need to count our blessings, such as they are, and be thankful for them.

Even if you think your home is shabby compared to others’, and you wish you had newer furniture, and you know you have quite a few repairs that need to be done, you can choose to be thankful that you have a roof over your head.  There are others who are less fortunate.

If you are struggling with illness, you can be thankful for friends and family who surround you and support you through the difficult and painful moments.

The point is that gratitude is a choice, not a feeling.  We can choose gratitude, whether we feel like it or not.  We can choose to be thankful, even in the midst of the most difficult or painful of circumstances, because it’s not about how we feel.  It’s a choice we make, a decision of the will.

And, while you’re at it, choose to focus on someone else.  Somehow, when we minister to the needs of those who are less fortunate, we begin to realize how blessed we really are, and we become truly thankful for what we have.

There are plenty of opportunities for you to bless others.  Volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.  Buy groceries for an elderly neighbor who finds it difficult to get out.  Visit a nursing home or children’s hospital.  Bake cookies (or buy them!) for the kids at an after school care center.  Pack up a care package for a missionary.  Make a donation to the Red Cross or Salvation Army.  Volunteer your time and skills to help build homes for lower income families through Habitat for Humanity or some other charitable organization.  There are countless ways you can begin to get your mind off of your own problems and be a help to someone else.

And when you do, you’ll be amazed at how blessed you suddenly are.  You’ll see your life in a different light, and you will not only choose to be thankful, but you will feel truly grateful as well.

What losses have you suffered?  Are you thankful that you were able to have the experience and enjoy the blessing while you had it?  When is the last time you did something for someone else?  What could you do today, or this week to bless someone who is less fortunate than you?  Take a chance, and discover how truly blessed you are!

–Debbie Ong


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