How do you give thanks when you are feeling low? In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, I lacked my usual enthusiasm, instead passively waiting for Thursday to arrive. Last year, my aunt brought a gratitude journal to dinner to record our collective thoughts. Everyone more-or-less wrote the same things: health, happiness, family and iPhones. But this year my family weathered some severe storms: aggressive cancer treatments, substance abuse and addiction, debilitating depression and anxiety and much more. I expect the mood will be different at dinner this year.
A dramatic shift in circumstances has created a tremendous challenge for me in terms of giving thanks. I asked questions like, “Is it possible to give thanks for health when your health is suffering?” As my family prepared by buying groceries and table settings, I felt like there was deeper work to be done.
The plan is to use gratitude as a self-care act that will restore and heal, rather than serve as an elusive goal for some other time. Just as we nurture our bodies with food, gratitude can nurture our souls as we deal with sadness. If there is anyone else out there who is experiencing a similar rough patch, I invite you to take the following steps with me. Let’s give thanks as a radical act of self-care.
Articulate very clearly why you are thankful. Sometimes, it’s easy to say, “I’m thankful for family.” without taking the time to specify what that means. For me, rephrasing the statement to “I enjoy the time I spend with my family because they support and love me.” or “I would experience great loss if I didn’t have this person in my life.” has a more personalized and lasting message.
Find one blessing and focus on it. Sometimes, identifying one blessing helps me see others. Friends, neighbors and extended family have come to our rescue so many times in the past year. I occasionally take this for granted. Now, I strive to intentionally notice and appreciate their generosity. It encourages me to be more loving, and subsequently, more happy.
Think about how limited your vision is compared to God. When I am experiencing hardship, I try to recognize that there is a divine understanding that is pretty much impossible to comprehend. People throughout history have encountered the same challenges, and their stories have played out in various ways. I am no different than them and neither are you. Gratitude gives us hope for resolution and peace.
Remember that gratitude it a way to restore ourselves and remember who we are as Christians. Expressing gratitude is a central Christian virtue. If it wasn’t good for our emotional health, we wouldn’t be encouraged so adamantly to give thanks.
“All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” – 2 Corinthians 4:15. Express gratitude as if your health and happiness depend on it. God is always caring for us. When we are feeling low, this is especially true. Happy Thanksgiving!