What to Do When You Don’t Feel Thankful on Thanksgiving


Today in the United States we celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Family and friends gather to enjoy each other and remember our blessings. (Well, maybe it’s to eat food and watch football, but do we want to talk about that?) Perhaps negative circumstances have left you feeling decidedly ungrateful this time around. What do you do when you don’t feel thankful on Thanksgiving?

You know what Paul wrote: “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) Paul had been through some pretty hard circumstances, so he knew what he was talking about. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

I learned this again recently as I walked through the journey of grief after my husband died. Intellectually I knew what God says – “give thanks in all circumstances.” Yes, even in this. But my heart was understandably struggling.

After several months I came to an understanding that changed so much for me. I came to the point of truly feeling a deep sense of gratitude not for my husband’s death, but for his life. I became overwhelmed at how wonderfully God had blessed me with the gift of life and love with Al Tanksley. I’ve been able to embrace what his life meant for me and others, for who I have become as a result, and for what our life together makes possible for me now. Even with the ongoing sense of pain and loss, the largest emotion I feel is gratitude.

So how do you get there?

In Everything Give Thanks

Paul did not say to give thanks for everything. The original Greek is very clear; “in all circumstances” or “in all things” is the accurate translation. God does not enjoy it when His children hurt. Pain and sickness and death and destruction are not His work, but the work of the enemy. Yet we can choose to turn to gratitude regardless of circumstances.

God is a miracle worker! He is the only One who can take what the enemy means for harm and turn it into meaning, into hope, into something by which others are fed as a result of our lives. (See Genesis 50:20) I don’t have to be grateful for my pain, but I can become wonderfully grateful for what my pain makes possible as a result of God’s transformation.

Perhaps you’re in the middle of something terrible – a serious illness, a broken marriage, a job loss, etc. Ask yourself, what does the combination of this circumstance and God’s transformation make possible? The answer may not eliminate the trouble or pain, but it can transform your focus and your future.

Perhaps your trauma makes other blessings more visible – family, health, or faith. Or God may use your circumstances to bring you into contact with people who can bless you or who you can bless who you would never have otherwise met. Your empathy or courage or leadership may reach a new depth or level of impact. Those are only a few of the possibilities.

Giving thanks in all circumstances does not mean ignoring trouble; it means choosing what you focus on, even if what you can be grateful for seems small.

What I’m Grateful For

Here are a few new things for which I’m grateful this Thanksgiving season. And to me, these are big.

  • My team. God has brought a few brilliant, creative, and dedicated people around me who together are proving to be a catalyst for some amazing growth in Dr Carol Ministries. I’m so grateful for you, #TeamDrCarol!
  • The substance in my soul. My journey of grief has been only one of the ways in which God has deepened who I am this year. The understanding I bring and the help I can provide has become more valuable. There’s something more weighty in my soul that I can offer now.
  • Perspective on both Here and Eternity. While never perfect, my sense of the value of today is now much more clearly defined by its impact on eternity. Perspective is a beautiful thing; it keeps the small stuff small and magnifies what is truly important.

What are you grateful for? You have a choice in how you respond this Thanksgiving Day. Choosing thankfulness will increase both your joy and your usefulness.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Your Turn: What are you newly grateful for this year? What do your challenges make possible, in combination with God’s intervention? Leave a comment below.

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