I am blessed with some very strong, wise people in my life. The first is my mother, who is more insightful and kind and wise than she will ever tell you and who has dealt with more pain than you would imagine just meeting her in passing. Then there is my father, who is strong and good (though he will never admit it) and has led me to search out our Heavenly Father with every facet of my intelligence and spirit. I believe it is they who led me to find my wonderful husband. He will never admit to his kindness or his goodness. He sees the worst in himself and often misses the absolutely amazing things he does every day. His capacity for love and his ability to protect and care for us as his family are things he cannot see, but I adore. He was one of the first to let me know how our past difficulties are not to be regretted, but appreciated for how they shaped the person we are now. This is one of the reasons I fell in love with him. In our life together we have found ourselves in San Antonio and I am now surrounded in ministry by a group of strong women who have been through tough, sad or unimaginably painful stories and made it to the other side.
But these stories are not mine to tell. I just want you to keep this list in mind and begin to think of some of your own people as I go on to my next points. I promise we will come back.
Being thankful in bad times is something that is hard but, if I am intentional about it, I have found it possible. Being thankful FOR the bad times is an entirely different challenge. I’ve not mastered it, but I’ve made some mistakes that you might benefit from.
The first mistake is assuming that I have to find a good reason to be thankful for the yuck. I bend myself into all sorts of emotional shapes trying to explain to myself that this temporary annoyance, or in some cases, earth shattering event is good for me in some way and I should say thank you for that result. That is wrong. You see what I did there? I’m not thankful for the yuck, but for the result I can see it possibly bringing. This left me in a conundrum when I was faced with difficulties that did not have an immediately visible “good” outcome. I was lost and couldn’t see my way out and therefore, I lost my Thankfulness. I’m a talker, or a writer, and so it was easy for me to spin wild tales of possible “good”, but I have come to believe that this is not what God wants. There is a freedom in just saying Thank you for the yuck without trying to justify why I am saying thank you. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to say thank you for it. It hurts. But, I say thank you, I’ll get to the why in a minute, and I am relieved of the duty of having to find the good. I just trust that the good is there, even if I never see it.
Second mistake: I assume that I cannot be simultaneously thankful for the yuck I’m going through and really mad about the yuck. We’re complicated beings. God gave us ALL the emotions. Feel the yuck, acknowledge the yuck, share the yuck with God in your daily prayer time. Chances are He understands that the yuck is bad. Chances are He wouldn’t want you to go through the yuck if you didn’t have to, or choose to. He’s ok with your being mad at the yuck, whatever your yuck is. Just remember to thank Him. Yes, I know it sounds totally counter-intuitive, but it frees you from sinking in a spiral of complaint that makes the yuck that much stronger. When you feel both thankfulness and pain simultaneously, you are so much more truthful, to yourself and others, about your feelings and you have the life vest of thankfulness to keep your head from going under.
My third mistake is one that can cause damage to all kinds of good things: Comparison Shopping. I am very good at comparison shopping, so much so that I rarely make a decision (just a joke, but seriously, I have a problem). But this is a different kind of comparison shopping. This occurs when we see someone else’s yuck and think, “Well, theirs is so much worse than mine. I shouldn’t even consider mine a problem.” Or “Well, theirs is so much better than mine. If only all I had to worry about were their problems.” You see the damage this can do? One side sees us discounting our pain instead of acknowledging it. Yes, it may not be “as yuck” as someone else’s yuck, but it is still ours and we still feel it, even if we won’t acknowledge it. The other side sees us jealous and sarcastic and, eventually, bitter and catty. When we acknowledge the yuck that hurts us and stop wishing for someone else’s, we can say Thank you and begin to heal.
Here is why I believe we have to say Thank you. We don’t have to like it to be thankful for it, see previous paragraphs, but I’ve come to believe that Thankfulness, sometimes without understanding why, is the path to healing. Healing may not look like we had hoped, but the Thankfulness we have exercised along the path will help us to see the healing for what it is.
Now we can get back to that list of illustrious people I started with. These are the people that have helped me to see my mistakes in my attitude toward my yuck. They have shown me what thankfulness FOR the bad times looks like. God has truly blessed me with these examples and guides. I don’t have it all right yet. I’m still not always able to say “Thank you” for the bad times. To be honest, I’m still fighting tooth and nail to not say thank you. But I want to heal. I want to go through my yuck without sinking in it. I want to be able to help someone else with their yuck without using an empty platitude.
So that’s where I am. Maybe you have a group of people you can think of who exemplify this form of thankfulness for you. Spend some time this week thinking about them. Look for what they can teach you. God doesn’t send us through the yuck alone.