Is it possible to be thankful without feeling thankful?
The answer, I think, is: Of course.
The Bible tells us that we should give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). I’ve heard more than one sermon on this passage that suggests God doesn’t tell us to be thankful for everything; He tells us to be thankful in everything. I have to contest this theory with Ephesians 5:20 which says we should be always giving thanks to God the Father for everything. God, I think, wants us to be thankful both in everything and for everything. God is in control, which means everything will ultimately be used for His glory. Even when we don’t like something, we are to give thanks recognizing 1) there is always something to be thankful for, and 2) even the very thing we don’t want to give thanks for can be used for God’s good purposes. Even if others mean it for harm, even if the Devil himself is after us, God can use it for good. We know that for those who love God all things work together for good (Romans 8:28). Even the things we’re a little less than thankful for.
With all these verses on thankfulness, I got to thinking how I’ve never seen one that says we are to feel thankful. Which got me thinking some more. Sometimes I go about this all wrong. I act as though thankfulness is something I should be receiving, when in actuality, thankfulness is something I should be giving. I shouldn’t be sitting here waiting for God to give me that full-to-bursting feeling. I should be saying, “God, even though I don’t feel very thankful today, I am still glad you’re in control. Thank you.”
It’s not easy to say thank you – and mean it – when you don’t feel it. It’s a bit like walking a familiar path in the dark. The “sunny” days I dash off thanksgivings without a second thought. I love everything! I am thankful for everything! But when the dark days come even the major gifts don’t seem quite so bright and shiny. I may have the exact same things to be thankful for – everything I loved in the daylight is still there – but I no longer see it. Outwardly, nothing has changed. It’s the same path. But in the dark, my feeling is different. And this is where we hear Paul say: In everything give thanks. For everything give thanks.
I am blessed to have a friend with whom I randomly exchange thankful lists. Sometimes by phone; sometime by email. One of us will say, “Today I am thankful for…” and we will each list five things. The other day I dashed off an email that said, in essence, “I am in need of an attitude adjustment, so today I am thankful for…” and I am sad to say that out of the millions of blessings I should have been able to dash off, it took me several minutes to type out five. You might say I was in the dark and even though I knew the blessings were there, I just couldn’t feel them. But it doesn’t matter if I don’t feel them. I can still give thanks in the dark.
We were talking about that tonight, this friend and I, and she was laughing that she had been thinking about all kinds of things for me to be thankful for. “Just think of that email transaction,” she said. “You could be thankful for the computer and email and internet and your eyes to see it and your fingers to type it…”
“I know. I know,” I interrupted. And then: “I’m glad at least one of us is thankful!” But as I hung up the phone I thought, Carry one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). Sometimes that means helping each other to be thankful.
Tonight I not only am thankful, I feel thankful. For a friend who called and talked to me about being thankful. And also for pillows, breakfast, carpets on cold tile, and indoor plumbing.
It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night (Psalm 92:1-2).