During Thanksgiving at our house, around the table filled with too much food, the conversation usually includes the obligatory listing of things we are thankful for. We recite what we have seen God give or do for us in the last year. New babies, new jobs, new friends. We mention happy vacations or meaningful opportunities, all good gifts from our good Heavenly Father.
However, rarely are there offers of gratitude for the tough stuff: broken relationships, financial struggles, consequences of poor decisions. We are thankful for the gains, but not so appreciative of the losses. As a family dealing with mental illness, some years our honest recounting includes more of the latter.
Yet God, who always teaches us a more excellent way, invites us to give thanks in all things. In fact, He tells us that giving thanks in all things is His will for us (1 Thessalonians 5:18). The good, the bad and the ugly. We are called to to be grateful even for the psychotic episodes, the suicide attempts, the spending sprees, the drugs and the legal fees. How is that even possible?
It can happen when we accept that our journey is not our own and is not leading to a life of ease and indulgence—neither for ourselves nor for our loved ones. Instead, the destination is a heart that trusts a God who works through His mysterious ways to carry us to a place of peace and joy in Him. We can give thanks for the hard things when we know that those things brought us—helpless and hopeless—to the One who fills us with humility, grace and deeper faith. The endgame is not our temporal happiness, but the opportunity to give testimony to our Lord, Who allowed what we would not have asked for to give us what we didn’t know we wanted.
In the capricious circumstances surrounding a loved one’s mental illness we can give thanks because God is our strong tower. In the heart-wrenching periods of their depression we can give thanks because God is near to the brokenhearted. When we have walked through yet another year of instability and uncertainty we can give thanks that we were not consumed by churning waves.
The little word “all” is an inclusive term that allows no exceptions. There are others: “always,” “none,” “never,” “every.” When we come upon such terms in Scripture we can see them as “yield signs” to pause and ask the question, “Really?” We “give thanks in ALL circumstances” … really? Even in THIS thing? We rest in the confidence that He will “NEVER leave you nor forsake you” … really? Not even now? We marvel that He will cause “ALL things work together for good” … really? Even this?
As I said in my last blog , I am not thankful for the mental illness that ravaged our son’s life for so many years. But I am thankful for the daily grace God has given us to get to other side filled with more faith, joy and peace than when we started. I am thankful for the confidence I now have that God answers prayers, that His timing is perfect and that His love for our son is greater than I could have ever imagined.
Perhaps around the too-full Thanksgiving table this year we can give thanks for God’s presence, love and grace in ALL the things we encountered this past year. Perhaps we can recount the ways we now love Him more deeply, trust Him more fully and follow Him more closely, and then thank Him more sincerely for HIS faithfulness in ALL circumstances.