Can we give thanks in all things? There is a time I would have said no. I used to ask with the wrong attitude, why didn’t God take care of this? Why did He allow that to happen? I felt smug in my self-righteousness. After all, I was a victim in many situations—receiving injustice when I didn’t deserve it. If God really loved me, He would fix this or solve that, unless He abandoned me, too. A thankless heart grieves the Holy Spirit, hurting not only our relationship with God, but also others. We feel it in our emotions—bitterness, anger, and depression.
Gratitude is a strange gift. The more we are thankful, the more we remember things for which we are thankful. One of my most memorable moments of gratitude came when I was in the eighth grade. I lost my notes for a major term paper. I didn’t know the cards were missing until my final class and the bell rang to be dismissed. I panicked. I ran down the hall into one class after another, checking my desk for the missing notes. Each time when they weren’t there, more tears filled my eyes. The dozens of hours of work I had put into those cards flashed before me and redoing all that work sickened me. In the last desk I checked, I found my stack of notecards.
I wrapped my arms around them and smiled, thanking God for helping me to find them. Tears flowed—not tears of sadness but tears of joy. I was a straight “A” student and the thought of those cards being lost forever was enough to send me into a tailspin of deep depression.
Recently I got to thinking about those cards. Much has happened since that day almost forty years ago. Now that I am a little older and a little grayer, I have accumulated many notes—for a different kind of term paper. We are living notes for God’s Book of Remembrance. Some of those notes I didn’t want to write and would gladly have thrown them away. They were about topics I never would have chosen, but God had different plans.
My notecards have included lessons in disappointment, heartache, failure, worry, depression, fear, and insecurity. Why couldn’t God have given me easier topics—like how to live like a millionaire? I would have donated lots of money. I could handle that one. As the years have passed—and they go by faster the older I get—missing from some of those cards written long ago was one important word—gratitude. Did I really want to thank God for the husband who abandoned me and married his pregnant girlfriend? Did I really want to thank God for my barrenness? Did I really want to thank God for the twenty years I spent in a profession I hated?
God has taken me down many paths I didn’t like. During most of those years, I did not have a heart of gratitude. I needed to learn, before God could use me completely, I needed to surrender to Him completely. Anything we hold back in our lives and put before God is an idol. God can’t use us as He would like to if we don’t surrender all to Him in obedience. Otherwise, we will not be able glorify Him fully but we will be too busy seeking our own selfish ambitions. We may not even realize it or do it intentionally.
Look at Hollywood, scan the self-help books, listen to the news, read the top stories on the internet—what blessings can the world give us with its self-centered, “I”-focused mentality? If I had continued to be like the world, which I was drawn to, I never could have glorified God, and you wouldn’t receive a blessing for God’s work in me.
I am thankful God didn’t give me all that I wanted when I was young. I would still be an insecure, fearful, performance-driven individual, seeking my self-worth from the world. How could God use me with that kind of mindset? The hard things God put in my life did a great work once I surrendered to Him. He humbled me and showed me His omnipotent power and infinite wisdom.
I cringe when I think of what kind of a mother I would have been to my kids if God had given me children when I was married—a co-dependent, insecure wife seeking all her self-worth from her husband. Talk about dysfunctional in today’s psychological terms—I was clueless what it meant to be a Christian wife or a Christian mother.
Today I thank God for the divorce that brought me to my knees. I honestly think I loved my husband more than I loved God. I just didn’t know it. I recommitted my life to Jesus Christ. God became my husband and my provider.
Growing up in a single-family without a father was hard. Being fatherless opened the door for my stepfather to adopt me when I was ten. His adoption of me paved the way for a deeper understanding of what it means to be adopted by my heavenly Father.
My barrenness became a blessing—I adopted two beautiful daughters from Asia, and the only one who loves them more than I do is God Himself.
I could never see the value of my job as a court reporter. How would God ever use all of those words I wrote involving lawsuits that had no lasting or eternal value? Why didn’t God allow me to pursue my dreams of becoming an author? Did He not put those dreams in my heart? Only when I prayed to God to make me more thankful for the job I hated did God give me something more fulfilling. Those court-reporting skills gave me the foundation for a later career in broadcast captioning, allowing me to work from home while raising my two adopted daughters. Now that I have time to write, I can pursue the passion to write God gave me—but in His timing, not mine.
When I was young, I looked at the destination, not the process, but it is in the process we grow and become like God. If the process had no meaning, God could have snapped His fingers and made us perfect right away. Wouldn’t that have been much more efficient and saved a lot of time? But God didn’t want to do it that way.
Why? It’s in the process that we glorify God. What is more beautiful than to see a man or a woman who has overcome great adversity give praise to Jesus Christ? We’ve all seen it—and we stand amazed. How easy it is to forget God’s passion. He sacrificed His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, so why would God withhold anything good from us? There is a mystery in it, but at the center is God. The joy is in the journey itself and all the opportunities He gives us along the way to glorify Him.
If our attitude towards the hard things glorifies God, we will be fulfilled. As Paul says in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” In the end, we are most content when we’re filled with God because our true joy can only be found in Him—not in this world. Everything else not of God will fade away and soon be forgotten.
It is in the struggle and my inability to do anything without God that I see His power at work. I am as a helpless worm, but God comes alongside and lifts me up when I fall. More than once, He has sent friends to me when I needed encouragement. Scripture instructs me each day, and prayer draws me into sweet communion.
When I enter heaven’s gates, God will wipe away my tears. Until then, I will write, hoping to use those cards of suffering to point people to the One who is the Source of all Hope and the Giver of all Joy. The cross is my symbol of remembrance. If I had not given my “all” to God, I never would have seen redemption in the hard things. Perspective is everything. God never wastes anything.
As it says in Philippians 4:8, “…Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
Only through God’s grace could I find hope when I had no hope. Thankfully, God never gave up on me even though I tried to give up on myself. He changed my perspective, showed me His unconditional love, and helped me to be thankful for even those things I hated. God lessened my pain and brought Godly friends into my life. In Jesus I found freedom to love and forgive. With a grateful heart, I found God at work in all those things I once despised, and for that, I am thankful.