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Being Thankful Isn't Always Easy

by Heidi Looney

Thanksgiving is a holiday that has always left me struggling. Amid great blessings, this particular time of celebration has left me focusing on difficulties, failures, and insufficiency. I find that I am drawn to where the blessings lack, rather than where they are abundant.

I am easily drawn to the sadness and suffering of life, and because of that, I think I fail at thankfulness itself. I used to think thanksgiving was all – and only – about joy, and that embracing the blessings of life needed unbound and unbridled happiness. Each year this holiday seems to taunt me that thankfulness is a failure, rather than a shared spirit. However, I have now come to realize what thankfulness is, and how to be at peace while embracing thankfulness.

Thanksgiving, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, is “the feeling of being happy or grateful because of something.” One can be grateful, or happy, and it’s not required to be both. I also think of 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, which says “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Reading this verse makes my prone-to-unhappy heart sing! One can rejoice, and give thanks, in ALL circumstances. Our circumstances don’t have to be good or happy to be thankful. God isn’t asking us to forget our circumstances. Instead, through giving thanks even in bad circumstances, we can find a way to rejoice and pray and we are following God’s will – not failing at thanksgiving as I’ve always thought.

I’m also reminded of the Jewish wedding tradition of breaking glass. This was a tradition observed at my own wedding, in honor of my ancestry. At the end of the ceremony, glass is broken by the groom. This holds multiple meanings. Some say it is the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, one of the saddest days in their history. Others say it is a reminder that marriage can hold both sorrow as well as joy and that the commitment should remain throughout. In one of the happiest celebrations in life, this tradition tempers the joy and gives a moment to reflect. Sadness and joy can coexist, and thankfulness can be celebrated in both.

I thank God for showing me that thankfulness can be a practice of my soul, and my self-doubts and personality don’t exclude me from it. This year I feel I’m finally learning how to be thankful in all of the circumstances. And surprisingly, that thankfulness brings a little spirit of joy with it, too.

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