The unthankful Thanksgiving post
I do it almost every time. When something difficult or painful happens, I jump right into thankfulness.
Like when my grandparents died, I went on and on about the wonderful memories I would cherish, how grateful I was to have that much time with them, and how blessed I was that they were in my life.
And while all this is true, it got me to thinking: Am I practicing true thankfulness or am I simply brushing past the hurt?
The way of Jill is to whitewash thankfulness.
Often what I try to pass off as thankfulness isn’t really thankfulness at all—it’s unthankfulness. My version of “thankfulness” includes pain-denial and emotion-escaping. My gratitude is my attempt to whitewash pain with a coat of Pollyanna paint.
I want to avoid my pain and escape any emotions that come with it, so I pretend I don’t hurt, push the pain away, or suppress my feelings. I want to escape because the emotions seem too big for me to handle and I’d rather get things done then feel feelings. Oh, and I also believe that emotions are for those who just can’t handle hard stuff.
Because I’m a good Christian girl, I can easily mask my sadness by reciting a list of blessings that might come out of hard situations. While this may seem biblical on the surface, I’m hiding from the truth of my hurt.
As the incredibly wise Ann LaMott wrote in Bird by Bird, “You can’t get to the truth by sitting in a field smiling beatifically, avoiding your anger and damage and grief.”
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The way of Jesus is to get to the truth of thankfulness.
His way of gratitude intersects with my hurt, but how? The Bible provides the answer to this question.
In John 11, Mary and Martha ask Jesus about the death of their brother, Lazarus. Mary falls at the feet of Jesus and weeps. She tells Him that if only Jesus had been there, her brother would still be alive. And then comes my favorite part…
Jesus sees her weeping.
He is deeply moved. Some translations say that He got angry at death.
Jesus asks a logistical question.
And then Jesus cries.
Notice what Jesus does not do: He doesn’t follow the way of Jill’s unthankfulness and recite how wonderful Lazarus was and how grateful they should all be to have known him. He doesn’t wax poetic about all the good times and inside jokes. Jesus doesn’t tell them to buck up and count their blessings.
He simply sits with a grieving sister and weeps with her.
Does this make Jesus ungrateful? Do the tears show mistrust in God? Does His anger at death belie an unbelief that good could come from this hurt?
Of course not.
The truth of thankfulness is that we can hold two competing emotions at the same time: grief and gratitude, distress and thankfulness, contrition and contentment.
Jesus shows us that we don’t have to bury our emotions or rush to thanksgiving. We can sit in our feelings, feel them in our core, and then, from a place of trust and peace, give thanks.
Thankfulness isn’t a surface-level reaction, it’s the sacrificial process of praising Him in the pain.
Here’s the deal: I don’t want to give thanks in the divorce, the death, the defiance, or the drug abuse. I see nothing good about any of those things, and it seems unnatural to give thanks for that which hurts. But this is why Hebrews 13:15 calls us to offer the sacrifice of praise. The word “sacrifice” is important because that’s how thanksgiving can feel, like the offering up and loss of that which is precious.
What happens when we don’t offer praise and thanksgiving to the God who gives and takes away? We miss out on healing, wholeness, and trust-building. By rushing through to un-thankfulness we miss out on restoration because we’re missing Jesus. When we don’t bring our feelings to God or thank Him for what He’s doing even though we don’t understand, we miss out on the healing grace that Christ alone can offer.
As Joni Ericsson Tada wrote in the introduction of Choosing Gratitude, sometimes circumstances are “… a bruising of a blessing. It’s the shadowy companion that walks with me daily, pulling and pushing me into the arms of my Savior. And that’s where the joy is.”
The way of Jill and the way of Jesus are options every time.
Almost every time something difficult or painful happens, we have a choice: gloss past the hurt and settle for unthankfulness or feel the hurt and offer sacrificial praise.
During this season of Thanksgiving, let’s renew our minds about thankfulness so it’s not a cover-up. Let’s not brush past the hurt but offer real, true, and sincere thanksgiving. Let’s choose the way of Jesus.