Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I struggled with wanting to put out a message to “other people” about how to care for the broken and the sorrowful this holiday season. But I’ve already covered that in a bonus episode called So You’ll Know…During The Holidays. The “So You’ll Know” episodes are for those of you who are wanted to know how to care for someone who has had a loved one who has passed away. I talk about what to say, or not to say; what to do, or not do. And just give you some tips on how to navigate through the difficult and sometimes awkward situations that we find ourselves in with regards to loss. So, if you’re wondering, go take a listen.
But today’s episode is for the one who may find themselves suffering in this season of Thanksgiving. If that’s you, there’s so much going on in your head and heart right now. I know. If it’s a fresh loss, you’re worried that being around people that you haven’t seen in a while, or people you don’t know very well, might ask you questions or talk about things you don’t want to talk about. Hold on. Wait a minute. Let me correct that. It really doesn’t matter how fresh the loss is or if it was years ago, this can be/ still is a concern for many people. Okay. Or maybe you’re worried that everyone else would be having fun and you’d just come in like a wet blanket and make everything sad and awkward. Or maybe you’re worried that if you did have fun, laugh a little and enjoy yourself, that people might judge you - as if you’d forgotten your loved one. Maybe you’re afraid that you’ll be the only one without a spouse - and you’ll stick out like a sore thumb. Maybe you’re afraid that just when someone says, “Please pass the green beans” you’ll burst into tears. And maybe you’ll know why, and maybe you’ll have no idea why.
Or just the act of being thankful, as many families do as they express that thankfulness around the table, you’re worried that you won’t be able to genuinely express thankfulness in the midst of your suffering. And again, you’re afraid people will judge you for it.
I’m sure I haven’t even begun to cover all the worries and concern you might have. And I know they can shift rapidly from, “No, no, I’m okay” to “where on earth did that gut-wrentching and visceral cry come from?” Navigating grief is an on-going, ever-changing experience. Some things will be no big deal for you. And then others will be a harrowing experience. And then it might flip-flop on you, just when you think you’ve gotten a handle on things. Can I just stop right here and tell you, if this is you, you are so normal? You’re doing things exactly right. Because you’re doing them. Not because there’s some formula for grief and you’ve finally figured out how to do it.
I want to offer you something else. For those of you grieving and you think you’re taking steps forward. You’re moving forward. You feel stronger than you were weeks ago. But now the holidays have rolled around and you feel like you’re an emotional mess. You can’t seem to get your act together, your house is in disorder, you have no desire to grocery shop or cook a good meal. And you find that your skin is agreeing with your chaotic and confused life and has decided to grace you with zits. Ugh. Well, I want to direct you to Episode number 49 - The Power of “AND”. In a nutshell, The Power Of “AND” is the place where you remember that being fully alive and experiencing all that it means to be human means that you’re going to experience really great stuff in life, AND really hard stuff too. Both. And way too often, they’re going to be happening AT the same time. It’s just the way things are.
Because if you’ve lost a loved one, grief is always here. Grief is a part of loss. And as long as you have loss you will have grief. It’ll just look different as you go along. But it’s also important to remember that grief is not linear. You don’t move through it - or through stages of grief - to a final destination. Again, it’s here; it just looks different as you go along.
The Power of AND helps you when you’re at that party and you’re missing your loved one AND you’re able to enjoy the company right there with you. You’re sad AND you’re happy. You’re feeling vulnerable AND you’re doing something courageous and strong. It’s the hard and the great things happening all at the same time. And it’s okay. It’s part of being human. A human that loves and laughs and dreams and cries and wishes and remembers and mourns. Those things that make up the whole human experience.
But I digress. How do we give thanks in the midst of suffering? And you might ask, “why on earth do I even need to? Can’t I just have a minute here to be really sad?” Well, yes. Do that. But don’t stay stuck there.
The Journal of Psychology reported that people who were grateful for who they are and what they have are more hopeful and are physically healthier. Psychologists find that, over time, feeling grateful increases psychological health, even among those already struggling with mental health problems. It lowers feelings of depression and anxiety. And people who are thankful are more resilient, meaning that when bad things happen to them, they were able to push through and keep moving forward with strength and determination. They feel better about themselves, have higher self-esteem, and more positive moods. That’s because, to be grateful, you must use positive, affirming words. And we know that the Bible tells us that life and death are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21) Your words can either speak life, or your words can speak death. They can build up or tear down. You are literally building up or tearing yourself down with the words you say - about yourself, about your life, about your world. And we know that those words are just coming from our thoughts - the things we’re thinking - and that our thoughts are what are creating the life that we have.
So, being thankful is then genuinely changing the chemistry in your brain. And because there is a strong, reactionary connection between the mind and the body, what the mind is thinking, if it’s not healthy, will somehow manifest somewhere in the body. People who are grateful feel less aches and pains, have less stress, suffer insomnia less, and have stronger immune systems. So, gratitude positively impacts the mind and the body.
But what about its connection to the spirit? Because we know that we are tripartite in nature, right? - body, soul, and spirit. What does the Bible say about being thankful? And how does that affect us spiritually? Well, it may be surprising to hear that when the Bible talks about being thankful - as in giving us instructions to be thankful - it’s generally surrounding the subject of suffering. Don’t you wonder why? Well, probably because God knew that it may be difficult for us humans to be thankful in the midst of our suffering. We tend to be a bit narcissistic when it comes to our comfortableness in our personal circumstances. We don’t usually have the capacity to be willing to be uncomfortable. And personal suffering is uncomfortable - in all manner of ways.
First Thessalonians 5, verses 16 through 18 tells us to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Friend, did you catch that? Give thanks in all circumstances. Now, it doesn’t say “Give thanks for all circumstances” - that’s ridiculous. God would not want you or ask you to be thankful that your husband or child died. Ridiculous. Don’t get that confused. Give thanks in all circumstances. That means, when you’re smack dab in the middle of the circumstance, in the middle of your suffering, still give thanks. And what could you find to be thankful for in the midst of your suffering? Well, if you know that God is the One that is waking you up every morning and breathing life into your lungs and saying, “Yes, you have another day here on this earth,” then that could be the first thing you’re thankful for each morning. Life. And breath. And if you know that the strength that you physically, emotionally, and spiritually have each and every day comes straight from Him, sustaining you, holding you up, binding up the wounds and healing your heart, then there’s reason number two.
Thankfulness has a cumulative effect. The more you are looking for to be thankful for, the more you’ll see that makes your heart thankful. This is brain science, here. The Reticular Activating System will create a filter for the things you experience in your life to show you all the beautiful reasons why you should be thankful. You will start to notice all the abundance in your life. Isn’t that crazy to imagine? That you can actually do something that changes the way you see things? You don’t have to live in negativity or have a defeatist attitude about life. You can literally change the lens through which you view your life. Just by making a decision.
Then once you’re able to live your life with such thankfulness and deep-seated joy, it spills over into all the other areas of your life. Because, listen, if you don’t believe that anger, or bitterness, or ungratefulness in one thing or person in your life doesn’t spill over into other things or relationships, you are sadly mistaken. A heart of thankfulness permeates your entire life - all the events, all the people, and even the sufferings. The more we’re able to do this, the more we learn that being thankful in the midst of suffering brings the ultimate peace.
It’s why you will be able to have compassion for the ridiculous humans around you who will say things that are…ridiculous. Ridiculously callous, judgmental, and critical, or just plain ‘ole without forethought. Ridiculous. Your heart of gratefulness, spilling out onto those kinds of comments, allows you a new perspective with which to throw grace on that ridiculousness. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but sometimes people say the dumbest things just because they really don’t know what to say, or how to say it, and it just comes across as unloving or uncaring. I know this because I’ve done it myself…before I knew. And yes, there will be people who judge your tears and your grief process, the way you go about it, and maybe even the amount of time that they think is just too long. But a heart of thankfulness enables us to throw grace on that ridiculousness, too. Because when we’re thankful for our lives and we know that our lives have an Author who loves and desires to walk this journey with us, we are completely settled within ourselves and within that relationship. “I am in Christ and Christ is in me.” Galatians 2:20. Then everything outside of the realm of that relationship can be viewed through the lens of that love. Yes, even the ridiculous things that your own relatives will say to you this Thanksgiving. Or even your friend. You will find a supernatural strength and peace to be able to extend grace. And be thankful, even in the midst of your suffering.
Now, you might say, “Yeah, Tricia, but you don’t know my circumstances. I’m in a tough place, full of sorrow and unbearable anguish. Things look really bleak. My whole world has exploded, and my heart has been shattered. How can I possibly be thankful right now?”
I want to just offer that it’s a supernatural thing. I can’t tell you how God works in these things. I just know He does.
The Apostle Paul is a beautiful example for us as one who continuously gave thanks to God right in the midst of his suffering. In Acts 16, Paul was thrown into prison after being attacked, having his clothes ripped off, and then beaten with rods within an inch of his life. And they put his feet in chains and stocks just to make sure he wouldn’t escape. Yet, in that prison he began to sing songs to God. Now wait. Listen. He was sitting in a cell in the center of the prison, the inner dungeon, with no windows, no light. Utter darkness. All day. Day after day. His body bloodied and bruised from the beating, and no doubt in a lot of physical pain. And he was singing thankfulness. I wonder what the songs sounded like, don’t you? I wonder what he said. How could he do that? How could he be joyful, thankful, in the middle of the pain and suffering he was experiencing? Who sings songs in the prison cell?
Maybe you feel like you’re in a prison cell – without any way out. Maybe you need hope for your tomorrow. There’s a reason why Paul had hope even while sitting in that darkness. It’s because of who he was singing to. God. He knew God loved him and saw him in that prison cell. He knew God cared about his pain, and great anguish and suffering. And he knew God was the One who could do something about it. And was already working things out the minute Paul got into that situation, and arguably, even before.
Verse 26 says “…Paul was praying and singing songs to God. Suddenly… SUDDENLY… an earthquake rocked the prison and all the cell doors swung open and the chains of every prisoner fell off.” Wow! God shook the earth until the chains fell off and the cell doors swung wide open!! Freedom! Only God can do that!
Friend, He can do that for you, in your life, too. He can open the prison doors that seem to keep you locked up and break off the chains that keep you held back. And it seems He can do this suddenly when, in the midst of our suffering, we choose to have a heart of thankfulness.
Thankfulness begins with a choice and then consumes our lives with the most beautiful results - physically, spiritually, and emotionally. I pray that if you are struggling right now to be thankful in the midst of your suffering, that you choose to take one step towards thankfulness, and watch it grow and permeate your life. I pray that you feel the love of people and your heavenly Father who knows; and that thankfulness fills you up so much so on the inside that your heart is made whole again. I pray God blesses you this Thanksgiving season. I am so thankful for you!
Friend, if you are struggling right now to be thankful in the midst of your suffering and would like someone to walk with you in this season, I would love to be your coach and mentor. Through one-on-one time together, I’ll teach you simple and effective tools that will enable you to find thankfulness, even when you don’t feel like it. I’ll teach you how to deal with difficult people and all the other difficult things you might face during these holidays.
I’ve put a link in the show notes to my calendar to book at quick 30-minute chat to see if we’re a good fit. Or you can visit my website tricizody.com and send me an email there.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, friends! See you next Wednesday for the next episode of Another Beautiful Life podcast.