When you’re just not feeling thankful

By Jessica Brodie

Have you ever felt simply … off? Unsure, perhaps, why you are feeling this way, you strive to reconnect with God in your usual ways. Maybe you go off alone, spending time in prayer and meditation with the Lord. Maybe you read more Scripture, try a new Bible study, or do what you can to slow down and take a step back from your crazy-hectic pace.

Of course, God hasn’t gone anywhere—your soul is simply tired, or overwhelmed with life, or out of alignment with the Creator, all symptoms of spiritual weariness or some other malady on our part. It’s never God who pulls away.

Still, that “off” feeling persists. And no wonder: mental illness is taking an increasing toll on society as the impacts of COVID-19, social isolation, financial hardship and more continue to wear us down. Anxiety and depression are on the upswing. Many can’t bring themselves to get off the couch on Sunday mornings and go back to church. There’s talk of a food shortage along with the slowdown in shipping. An ever-present sense of doom seeps in like a cloud of toxic gray.

We were never promised an end date with the pandemic, yet many of us expected it would be over by now, that by this holiday season we’d be back to normal, with our life lessons nicely learned and all the angst, sickness, sadness, and difficulty of the past 20 months sealed like a present in a gift box and tied up tight with a neat red bow.

And yet this month, Thanksgiving, urges us to have a grateful heart, to give thanks in all things, to count our blessings and show appreciation to God for all God’s kindness, mercy, compassion and provision. This can feel almost impossible for those who are depressed, “off,” grieving or otherwise spiritually low. How do you muster up the strength for a grateful heart when it’s an effort to get out of bed, let alone “feel thankful”?

I believe it has to do with perspective. To experience gratitude in difficulty, we must understand gratitude is not a feeling but a state of being. Just like we can experience joy but not “feel happy,” we can also experience gratitude without feeling happy or even especially thankful. Joy is a deep soul-level understanding of the hope we have in God even in the midst of great trial and difficulty. Similarly, gratitude is understanding that God, in God’s great mercy and love, provides. We might not feel particularly thankful or happy when someone we love has died, but we can still experience gratitude that God has a purpose and a plan, that God will use this for good, that God is still almighty and all-powerful, supreme and glorious and true.

We might not feel particularly thankful or happy when our finances are tight or a relationship ends, when our church family is squabbling or our kids are unwell. But we can experience gratitude. We can know deep in our souls that all is right with God, and we are carefully held within God’s arms in spite of it all.

This November, I urge you to explore gratitude as a state of being rather than a feeling. Don’t simply go through the proverbial motions of Thanksgiving this season, but reflect anew on what it means to be held in the Lord and be comforted by God’s vast, wide compassion and love.

As we read in Job 19:25-27, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (NIV).

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