If you are being crushed by pain, disappointment, or discouragement, there is an unusual choice that can lead to joy. . .enjoyment. . .even great joy. To help explain what I mean, let me share a story.
In 1991, life was hard. My husband's career goal—being a long-term band director at one school—had crashed after he had talked briefly about Jesus in a staff meeting. The administrators went from loving his work to seeking his resignation. It was crushing emotionally. . .and financially. We were a one-income, three-children homeschool family, dependent on a regular paycheck that suddenly disappeared.
Borrowed Car #1.
Once you start down that unemployed or partially-employed mountain, the momentum of disaster increases. Our old pick-up truck quit working and we couldn't afford to fix it. My husband was working for a brick mason and had the use of a work truck, but we didn't have a vehicle to use for our family, so a kind man at our church temporarily loaned us an old car.
My volunteer work at this same church was to write yearly scripts for the Christmas, Easter, and 4th of July musicals. There was no pay for the scripts, but when it was time to write, they would provide two nights at a cheap hotel on the Washington coast—a very scenic and inspiring place for creativity. My husband and I would drive to the beach, I'd set up my typewriter and write for the next two days, with occasional walks on the beach.
It was the one break in unrelenting gloom. And, it wasn't fully a break since I had to come back with a script.
You with me?
So, on this particular weekend in 1991, we had packed the borrowed car late in the afternoon, taken our kids to loving friends, and stopped to pick up a few groceries for the trip. When we got back into the car, it wouldn't start. Someone stopped to help us jump the battery, but it made no difference. Kaput.
At that point, I lost it. I was so angry at God for all of the disappointments, for our crushed and broken dreams, for the humiliation of a car that wouldn't start, and for the immediate fact that if we didn't leave in the next hour or two, my entire time at the beach would be spent working. Since that seemed completely unacceptable, I called some other friends who were involved in the musicals and explained the situation to them. They agreed to let us borrow their car.
Borrowed Car #2.
The two-hour drive to the beach was filled with frustration and bewilderment. Why were things so hard for us? Where was God in our struggle? Didn't He care? After all, I was on my way to write a script that would point people to Him! How was this fair??
Early the next day, the morning dawned with a glorious sky and the sounds of waves hitting the sand. I quietly left my husband sleeping, made some coffee, and, with my Bible in hand, headed for our tiny patio overlooking the ocean. It was on that patio that I made a discovery that would change my life.
"Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Have you ever had one of those moments when a scripture lights up on the page like it's a neon sign? That was what happened to me. It was so utterly foreign to my mind, though, that I was staggered by the concept.
"God, are You kidding? You want me to give thanks, even though everything is so hard, even though we're driving Borrowed Car #2?? We don't even know how much it's going to cost to fix Borrowed Car #1, we don't have any money to spare, and You expect me to give thanks???"
I couldn't get away from the strong sense that that was EXACTLY what He was communicating. So, I tentatively gave thanks for a few things. . . coffee. . .the beach. . .my husband and kids. . . And the more I gave thanks, the freer I felt inside. It actually began to change my emotions about our present circumstances. Instead of feeling like a helpless and beaten victim, I was experiencing an unexpected measure of joy.
That was the start of more than twenty-five years of intentionally giving thanks to God— regardless of our circumstances. At first, it was VERY challenging. My husband would look at me when life was particularly painful and ask, "Diana, do you want to give thanks right now?" Honestly, at those moments, it was the last thing I wanted to do. But, it had become a spiritual discipline in our lives (like prayer, Bible study, and reflection) and I knew it was a wise choice I needed to make.
Eventually, we stumbled upon the idea of playing the "5 Things I'm Thankful For" game. One of us would announce, "5 Things I'm Thankful For," and list off the first five things that came to mind. The other would then do a round of 5 things and the game would end. Amazingly, even this short exercise would make a difference. . .circumstances would start to look brighter, less ominous, and we would once again be reminded of God's great goodness to us.
A few years ago, I realized that this small exercise of gratitude had gradually produced incredible results. From the very beginning, giving thanks allowed me to access joy—the ability to enjoy the moment—even when surrounded by painful difficulties and impossible circumstances. And the longer we practiced, the easier it became.
Here are the benefits I've discovered in being thankful through the years:
- it shifts us from helplessness at our circumstances to having power in how we respond;
- it allows us to push back the curtain, briefly, to see God's goodness to us in even excruciating difficulties;
- it increases our capacity for joy—with each choice to be grateful, our hearts expand to be able to receive more joy;
- it is a key that unlocks our understanding of Psalm 68:19—"Blessed be the Lord who daily loads us with benefits. . .";
- it is one of the major highways into the place of deep and satisfying enjoyment, where we are able to take in God's goodness to us and fully enjoy it in the innermost part of our beings;
- and, it brings an increasing and tangible sweetness to who we are, to how others experience time with us.
This unusual choice—giving thanks in all circumstances—will unleash increasing joy in your life. That's probably why the Bible gives us that instruction over and over again.