devotional, lessons learned, moving on

How to be Thankful in Tough Times

Canva - A Woman in a FieldI don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do when I’m faced with a huge, unexpected car repair bill, a looming medical diagnosis, or an impossible family situation is to give thanks. But that’s what we’re supposed to do. 

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

James instructs us to “count it all joy” as we encounter trials! Personally, I’ve always had a bone to pick with James about the word “joy.” But we are instructed to actually be joyful in times of trouble. I’m still working on it! That’s the way to become steadfast, which will lead to becoming “perfect and complete” (James 1:2–4).

The most vivid example is when Paul and Silas were in the Philippian jail. It can’t get much worse than being beaten and then thrown into a dank prison cell for witnessing for Christ. Yet Paul and Silas were singing and praising God in the middle of the night. THEN, and only then, did God cause an earthquake that set in motion the events of their freedom—and the salvation of the Philippian jailer and his family (Acts 16:16–34). Somehow, I don’t think they would have been saved if Paul and Silas had spent the night complaining and screaming invectives.  

Do I want to give praise and thanks to God when times are tough? No! Nothing in my natural self wants to do anything but have a pity party. But after my tissue box is empty and my journal is full of laments, the pity party is over. The first rung of the ladder out of the pit of despair is praise. There’s always something to be thankful for, even if it’s just a new box of tissues when you’re bawling your eyes out over bad news. 

I can praise God that though the battle may seem lost for now, the war is not over. I can praise God for past victories, however small or long ago they may be. I can praise God for another day to bring Him glory. I can thank God for friends and family who remain by my side no matter what. I can be thankful for a roof over my head and a job to pay the bills. 

Even when I didn’t have a job—or a roof, or a car—God provided for my every need. And for that, I can be thankful today as I’m facing new trials.   

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!  For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:1, 5).

So, how can you be thankful right now—in the midst of your trials?

anxiety, grief, healing

What to Say Instead

Nothing! Yes, often the best thing to say is nothing at all. But that’s so hard for this fix-it society. In fact, I caught myself opening my mouth to spout a fix-it verse just the other day. We often feel like when someone says something, we have to respond. Right that second. Don’t.

Stop. Listen. Think. Respond. Silence is not always a sign of a lack of wisdom. Sometimes it’s the greatest sign of wisdom. Use your filter!

While you’re saying nothing, try just sitting with your friend. Offer a hug, a shoulder, and a tissue box. Actually ask if she wants to talk about it, or what you can do to help. What do you need? What can I do for you? And then respect the answer. Or try a simple I’m so sorry.

“When you make one other human simply see they aren’t alone, you make the world a better place.”

Lysa TerKeurst, Facebook, Sept. 10, 2019

But what do you do about those pesky feelings? It’s ok to feel that way. God isn’t mad at you for feeling that way. Me, too (but don’t hijack the conversation). I understand (but only if you really do – “tired” is not the same as chronic fatigue syndrome; “my husband is away for a week” is not the same as not having one). I can’t say I understand your struggle exactly, but I will certainly pray for you!

I don’t want to give the impression that reciting Bible verses is wrong, but do so judiciously. Don’t offer bandaids for bullet holes. Do offer a relevant Scripture or two, but don’t try to make the issue go away or minimalize it with the “magic” of Bible verses.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

1 Thessalonians 5:11

Bonus responses: I’m on the way with chocolate ice cream! Let’s meet at Starbucks; I’m buying. 

Seeking to understand is always better than trying to give answers! How are you planning on encouraging someone the next time the need arises? How do you need to be encouraged yourself? What works for you?