Thanksgiving As a Discipline, Not a Feeling

We can give thanks in all circumstances, regardless of our feelings and circumstances.

Can I be honest with you? I often get incredibly frustrated when we talk about thanksgiving and gratitude. I often feel as if I’m supposed to feel happy and thankful and have an abundance of joy no matter what, but I don’t. Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and often caught in comparison with others. I don’t feel how I’m supposed to, and I can’t magically change my feelings, even if I want to. Then, I feel like a bad Christian, which makes me feel even worse, and I get caught in a spiral. How do I reconcile being obedient in thankfulness while being honest with God about feeling frustrated?

I pass a tiny, seemingly one-room church a few times a week. On their church sign, they have the following question: “What if tomorrow you woke up with only what you thanked God for today?” The first few times I passed it, I ignored it and thought it was annoying and cliche. But as I’ve seen it more and more over the past few months, It has begun to affect me profoundly. Maybe in my life, there are many things I’m frustrated with- but there are things that I am thankful for. What would I be sad about if I woke up without it tomorrow? I began to reflect on this thought and then thanking God for those things. I discovered that I had ignored or taken for granted so many things because I was focused on what I didn’t have. 

I started looking into verses on thankfulness. You know what I didn’t find? Verses that commanded me to feel thankful. 

1 Chronicles 16:34
"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever."

Colossians 4:2
"Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful."

1 Corinthians 1:4
"I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus."

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
"Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."

Psalm 50:14
"Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High."

These verses tell us to give thanks in all circumstances, regardless of our feelings and circumstances. If you have a relationship with Jesus, you always have things to be thankful for, regardless of your feelings. Even if your feelings don’t align with the truth, you can act on the truth, which is that God is good. When we know this, we can thank him for this goodness and work it into our routine. 

God isn’t asking you to fake thankfulness. He is asking you to reflect on the gifts He has given you and acknowledge His provision. When we do that as a habit, our feelings will catch up. 

If you’re struggling with gratitude this Thanksgiving, here are a few ideas of things to thank God for to get you started:

  • Thank God for His consistency (I would use steadfastness—more personal). Even as the seasons and our circumstances change, He does not.
  • Thank God for something you find beautiful, whether it’s the outdoors, a work of art, or a person.
  • Thank God for someone He has put in your life.
  • Thank God for your last meal.
  • Thank God for His presence and for being with you even in hard seasons.
  • Thank God for His provision and how He knows exactly what you need when you need it.
  • Thank God for His goodness, even when you don’t feel it.

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