When Gratitude Feels Unnatural

We climbed into bed, exhausted with a weariness of the soul that comes from an unexpected burden. The shock of the events of the day left us numb and speechless, but sleep was the farthest thing from our minds when our heads hit the pillows that chilly November night.

We had hurriedly packed our suitcases, loaded with an emotional weight that felt unbearable. We made arrangements for work and responsibilities, and made the necessary phone calls before the early morning journey ahead of us. Somewhere in the flurry and frenzy of the awful news, I believe we must have fed our two little boys their dinner and quickly tucked them into bed.

Tragedy rarely comes with notice.

It has a way of sneaking up on you, jumping out from behind a corner and startling you into a place of raw disbelief. Such was the case that day, learning that the nephew we had expected to welcome within days had been lost. He was born into heaven after a few hours of labor.

We lay motionless, my husband and I, while our minds whirled with all the sadness we were unable to express.

Then, he said the words that would ripple through my heart for years to come.

“What can we be thankful for?”

His startling words broke the dark night. He knows me well enough to read my thoughts, and so he added, “The Bible doesn’t say we have to be thankful for all things. But God asks us to be thankful in all things. I’m just reaching here. But can we find anything to be thankful for to help us look at the bigger picture?”

The Bible talks about the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. These words never ring more true than when you are stumbling through the valley of loss and searching frantically to find your way to God. A sacrifice of thanks, indeed.

To make the humbling and painful choice to say, “I will thank you, God. I will turn my heart to thanks. Even when gratitude feels unnatural.”

You are my God, and I will praise You; You are my God, and I will exalt You.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever. {Psalm 118:28-29}

The Psalmist finds the words to articulate a true sacrificial offering of thanks. The original Hebrew language gives further insight into these verses. The words express a declaration or public confession designed to express praise and give thanks and to extol the Mighty One who is the Great One and the Judge.

In the waiting times, or in the heartbreaking seasons of grief, we have a choice to make.

When we turn our despair into a deliberate confession that God is good even when the circumstances are not, that is offering one of the sweetest sacrifices we can to the One who sacrificed it all for us.

The sacrifice of thanksgiving says that even here, in this pit, I will choose to believe God’s goodness. These offerings preach to our souls that God is working for our good even when we cannot imagine it. Such gratitude expresses that all God’s ways are for us although we cannot yet see. Whether we feel like it or not, we can publicly confess that God acts on our behalf behind the hidden doors of heaven for our eternal benefit even as we wait for this to be made evident.

When we echo the heart of the Psalmist in our dark nights of the soul, a pinprick of light breaks through.

So there, in our literal and figurative darkness, my husband and I begged for eyes to see a way to be thankful. As we declared our gratitude for the wise doctor and compassionate nurses and the praying body of Christ who were responding to the needs, I know that we held back the blackness of the enemy, who was summoning us to despair.

For offering the sacrifice of thanksgiving and declaring gratitude when it feels unnatural holds the power of heaven to fight the forces of hell.

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