In this season of Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I feel like it’s appropriate to take a pause from our “regularly scheduled programming” and talk about the idea of thanks-giving. It’s a pretty common topic (especially this time of year) but I’d like to discuss the tougher side of thanksgiving: giving thanks to God when things are extraordinarily difficult.
This season has been a rough one for me. By season, I mean nearly six months. Outwardly, my life has been beautiful and blessed– and it has been, truly! However, I’ve been majorly struggling with depression, self-esteem, and discovering where I’m going. I know that God has me in the place where I am now, but what direction should I step in next? What does contentment in my current situation look like, even if (especially if) it is not my forever situation?
With these feelings and questions comes guilt… a lot of guilt. I have a wonderful husband, three amazing cats and a dog, plenty of plants, my health, a creative mind, and most of all- a God who loves me more than anything. How dare I feel longing, confusion, depression, anxiety? Why can’t I just… be thankful for where I’m at?
To be frank, it’s because Satan doesn’t want me to be.
Before I move on, I’d like to state a couple of things- if you are suffering from a mental illness, it is not your fault. I am not shaking my head at you, telling you to stop being a special snowflake, or suggesting that you should just fight a little harder– in fact, I’m in the trenches along with you. I believe in an inclusive method of dealing with mental health. That means that I believe that you should absolutely go to a doctor for help with balancing hormonal issues, but I also believe in the importance- or should I say, necessity- of receiving counseling or therapy from someone with a deep knowledge of God’s Word. It’s a both/and type of situation. I do not want to be dismissive of your suffering, your pain, or the things you have been through. I also don’t want to act as if the Christian life will be a piece of cake if you “follow these five steps!”. Hate to break it to you, but that’s not the life Jesus promised for His followers. I’m simply here to share with my fellow sufferers some of the scraps of wisdom I’ve gleaned during this season of suffering.
All that being said, at the end of the day, Satan does not want me to be thankful. Why? Because when I am thankful, my focus is not on myself– it’s on God and other people, and that’s when I become dangerous to him.
During this time, I’ve been stuck in a whirlpool of self-doubt, distress, and negative thoughts. I’ve purely been focused on myself. I’m not going to lie- I have been racked with mental pain and sorrow for solid months. It has been difficult. But because of the ache of the thorns of this world, I’ve put up my emotional and spiritual walls, and turned inwards. And you know what? That’s exactly what Satan wants. I can’t solve my problems, but I think I can. The great deceiver deceives once more, and I end up tearing myself to pieces.
In a rare moment of clarity from the mental fog, I began to study the Book of Job. I’m using an online plan by She Reads Truth, and I’m finding it to be really great and helpful. Something that the Lord has been really pressing upon me during this time is Job’s focus. During his laments, Job doesn’t simply focus on the pain he’s in (which is a lot, considering he lost his health, children, wealth, and all of his friends are telling him it’s all his fault), he refocuses on God. Job knows that God is there, active, and he KNOWS that God loves him.
Stop for a second here. God LOVES Job. In the midst of Job’s trials, God loves him. In the midst of the trials GOD ALLOWS, He loves Job. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose”.
This is where my mindset began to change.
In the middle of the worst days of Job’s life, he speaks and acts with confidence in the overwhelming knowledge that God loves him and does not act unjustly or unlovingly. So… why do I often have a deep-seated mindset that God is not being kind to me? Romans 8:29 goes on to say, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son”. Jesus lived a very challenging, difficult, and short life. However, Jesus lived a life of holiness, godliness, and God-given honor and glory. God loves us by making us more like His Son, and more often than not, that is not done through easy circumstances. At the end of the day, what is my good? It’s to look more like Jesus. God loves me and works all things together to make me look more like Jesus, even though (especially through?) the challenging seasons of life.
What does this have to do with thanksgiving? When I’m struggling to see any good in my circumstances, I can go back to the very basics. I can thank God for Jesus’ death and resurrection, I can thank God for my own salvation, and I can thank God that He is making me more like Jesus through my trials, even when I don’t understand.
So I’m depressed. I struggle. I’m hurting, I’m tired, I grapple with being content, and I’m far, far weaker than I would like to be. But you know what? I’m also thankful. And every moment that I choose to be thankful for the big things and the simple things God has given me– like hot coffee on a cold morning, cotton-candy sunsets, and velvety soft cats to snuggle– I gain a little bit of strength, because I remind myself of the same thing that Job preaches to himself: I. Am. Loved.