By Becky Harling, Crosswalk.com
Thanksgiving is just around the corner, yet for many of us, there’s a feeling of heaviness and loss. It feels as though many in our nation and around the world are in a state of grief. Many have lost loved ones, jobs, and homes. Others have lost their sense of normalcy. Uncertainty and anxiety hang in the air like dark clouds.
How do we, as the people of God, give thanks with an authentic heart even when we’re grieving?
Gratitude can be one of the most powerful grief healing tools we have. It may sound like an oxymoron: Gratitude and grief are two words whose definitions are as far apart as you can get.
Yet, as we give thanks even in our times of grieving, we experience the presence and comfort of God. Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting a snap out of it, “happy clappy” approach to loss and disappointment. I believe that grieving has an honored place in the life of the believer. Jesus Himself was a man of sorrow and was well-acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53:3).
While teaching on a grassy hillside, He taught, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
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Give Thanks While Grieving
What I am suggesting is this: in your season of grief, give thanks. Finding little blessings in life to be thankful for will infuse hope, joy, and strengthened faith into your soul. How do I know? I’ve experienced this myself.
I remember a season where I wept almost every day. I was grieving the loss of my breasts to breast cancer.
I was grieving the loss of my innocence as I processed the trauma I experienced as a child.
I was grieving the loss of leaving two of my children on the East Coast in college, while moving across the country for a different ministry. During that season, I made what I feel was the most pivotal decision of my spiritual journey: I decided that I would give thanks and praise God for who He was every day.
As I faithfully practiced gratitude, even in my weeping, God’s presence came close. It’s not that I made God move. It’s that thanksgiving and praise opened my heart to experience more of God’s comforting presence. As a result, gradually, the Holy Spirit healed my soul and brought forth fresh joy. I promise you—the same can happen for you.
The question that might be rising in your heart, is how?
How do we practice giving thanks even in seasons of great loss? Here are five gratitude hacks for grieving souls:
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1. Keep a Blessing Journal
In your journal write down 3 blessings every day. My husband, Steve, and I do this every night at dinner. We look back on our day and each of us lists 3 blessings of that day. It might be a wonderful phone conversation with one of the kids, or a snuggle with one of our grandkids. It might be an encouraging email or text message from a friend.
No matter how great or small, the intentional practice of looking for the blessing in each and every day will keep your heart buoyant through grief and loss.
2. Take a Thankful Nature Walk
Our souls need beauty. It’s part of how God designed us. When you’re grieving, get outside and take a walk. Notice the beauty around you; the blue sky, the colorful leaves, the snowcapped mountains, the wonder of crashing waves, the ripples in a babbling brook, or even the different shades of color in the rocks on the ground.
As you walk and notice, thank the Lord for each beautiful observation. God loves His creation and it pleases His heart when we give Him thanks.
I heard about a woman who was a prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland during World War II. It was notoriously one of the worst of the worst.
Years after her execution, the woman’s journal was discovered. In one entry, she described working outside and thanking God for the beauty of the blue sky and the tiny flowers in the nearby field. She wrote in her journal that she felt thankful for these small gifts from God...and that her captors couldn’t take those gifts from her.
The woman’s thankful heart is profound to me. Most of us will never experience the horror of a concentration camp. But we can practice observing and giving thanks for the beauty around us.
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3. Turn on Praise Music and Sing
Through the Psalms we discover that music is part of God’s plan for helping us emotionally. When I’m having a particularly rough day, or I’m grieving a loss, I keep worship music playing in my home. The songs remind me that God is still in control. He loves me and His presence is with me.
When I was visiting Finland a few years ago, our guide told us about a time when Helsinki was under attack. The people began to sing, and in doing so, they found renewed strength. Similarly, during COVID-19, when Italy was under lockdown because their numbers were so high, people went out on their balconies and began to sing to each other. The result was lifted spirits.
I did a little research on the health benefits of singing and I have to tell you, they are huge. According to my research, singing releases endorphins in your brain, lifting your spirits. Singing increases your immune system, and even increases your memory.
When you’re grieving, it’s easy to feel lethargic and foggy. Next time you feel that way, try singing your thanksgiving. It doesn’t matter if you’re musically trained. God hears in perfect pitch!
4. Read a Psalm
The psalmists model for us an authentic prayer and praise life. About 70% of the Psalms are laments, which show us that the psalmist was grieving while writing. The amazing thing about these Psalms is that even though the psalmists pour out their feelings authentically, almost every one ends with praise and thanksgiving to God.
The psalmists gave us a pattern for grieving with gratitude: pour out your heart authentically and then switch your focus to praising God.
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5. Write a Thank You Note
During this season of COVID-19, I have rediscovered the joy of writing encouraging hand-written notes to friends. We’ve all spent enough hours on our computers, on Zoom meetings, emails, news reports, and social media sites.
I decided I would start sending hand-written cards and notes to friends. In some notes I’m simply thanking the person for their friendship, or for a gift they’ve sent. In others, I’m seeking to encourage and edify the other person by thanking them for a quality I see in their lives.
What’s been remarkable to me is how writing the notes has actually encouraged my spirits! It’s like a boomerang effect—you send a note to someone else to encourage them, but in the process, you’re encouraged as well!
Truth is, even in times of grief and loss, you can give thanks. As you practice gratitude in your grief, you will discover the healing presence of God. He loves to comfort those who come to Him with a grateful heart.
Practice thankfulness and watch as your grief is replaced with bountiful joy, renewed hope, and strengthened faith.
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