Disclaimer: If you currently have a really crappy life, this is NOT an admonition for you to be thankful about it. So feel absolutely free to completely skip this blog entry, and may God bless you in your struggles.
I recently went to see the movie “Soul Surfer”, and cried through most of it. It is based on a true story of a young girl in Hawaii with a very promising career in professional surfing. She loses an arm in a shark attack and nearly dies. But she recovers, and ultimately goes back to surfing. Her struggle to learn how to live with only one arm is wrenching, though, and at one point she sobs to her father, “Why did I have to lose everything?” In a moment of sudden clarity, he says, “…you didn’t! Not even close!” Suddenly they both, along with the audience, realize that even though this was a terrible fate, she still had much to be thankful for.
I also have in my heart the memory of a powerful lesson on thankfulness in a powerful book called The Hiding Place. If you’ve never read this book, I highly recommend it. It is hard to read because the story is so graphic, but it has many life-changing lessons in it that I personally have used in my own life on numerous occasions. It is the true story of how Corrie Ten Boom and her family helped smuggle Jewish refugees to safety during World War II. Corrie was the only member of her family that did not die in the concentration camps.
There is a scene in the book where Corrie and her sister Betsy have just been interred in a concentration camp and are discussing things they can be thankful for. Betsy reminds Corrie of a passage in the Bible that says to be thankful in all circumstances. Corrie is reluctant at first to find anything positive in their situation, but Betsy points some things out: They were not separated, for instance (“Oh, yes, Lord, thank you!”), and they were not searched and so were able to keep the Bibles they’d smuggled in. Then Betsy says they should be thankful for the fleas. Well, Corrie just flat out rebels, but Betsy firmly reminds her: “It says to be thankful in ALL circumstances.” So Corrie reluctantly thanks God for the nasty, biting, stinking fleas! But she is certain Betsy is wrong about this.
Later in the book, it tells of how they are able to hold Bible studies at night in their dorm with the other women. They can’t understand why the guards are leaving them alone to do this, until one day they overhear one of the guards saying she was not going in there where those nasty fleas were! And so, Corrie learns that Betsy was right after all, and that it was the fleas that allowed them to share their faith and hope with the other women who were incarcerated with them.
I would never suggest to you that you try to force yourself to be thankful for awful things that are happening to or around you. There is much pain – physical and emotional – in the world, and I would be arrogant – and wrong – to suggest you be thankful for it. I know I’m not thankful for the pain and grief I’ve suffered in my life.
But I do think there’s something to be said for looking for the good in all situations. It is also just a good habit to remember to be thankful for the good things in your life. I once read that if you only woke up with the things you remembered to be thankful for the night before, it might be a pretty stark morning.
I have an extraordinarily good life. I really do. I’ve listed in other entries some of the things I’m thankful for, and those barely touch the surface of everything that is good and right in my life. I almost feel guilty about it, that my life is so amazing when others are suffering.
But I have had some bad things happen in my life, some of them truly, deeply awful. Things that still cause me pain and deep sorrow. Finding something good to focus on helps get me through the dark times.
I have not wandered much into the field of faith in these blog entries, but the subject of thankfulness, I believe, is rooted in faith. My faith is in Jesus, and my thankfulness is directed toward him.
“Into the joy of Jesus, deeper and deeper I go, Rising with soul enraptured far from the world below; Joy in the place of sorrow, peace in the midst of pain, Jesus will give, Jesus will give; He will uphold and sustain.” – Oswald J. Smith, “Into the Heart of Jesus”
May you find gratitude in your heart for the good things in life, and may you be given the peace and wisdom to search for things to be thankful for in the midst of sorrow and pain.