The holidays are here! Thanksgiving is this week, here in America, and then Christmas is coming right after that.
I just want to speak to the woman who may be finding it hard to be thankful for anything in your current season of life. There have been times in my life when I was in a really dark place for one reason or another and having a really difficult time, and I’ll be honest… I thought to myself, “I have nothing to be thankful for.”
“All I see is the struggle, the difficulty, the challenges, the pain…” And truly, that’s all I could see. Because I know sometimes our pain can be so big it blocks everything else in our life.
I’ve been there.
Our pain can overshadow all of the things you could be thankful for, if you were seeing things through the correct lens, but I’m not faulting us because like I said, I know what it’s like to be in this place where you can’t see anything else but the disappointment or the “hard” – Whatever this may be for you.
Unable to See The Blessings
I remember past holidays where I truly felt empty. Like there was a void.
I was so unfulfilled. I didn’t realize at the time, but I was carrying so much bitterness, so much hurt, so much anger. I was so jaded. And I let my circumstances color my entire world.
One year in particular, we were trying to conceive (TTC), and I remember sitting at church thinking, “I have nothing to be thankful for. There is nothing I’m thankful for.”
Now, from the outside looking in, I can acknowledge the reality I was living in. I was married to my high school sweetheart, and we both had steady jobs with a consistent income. I was teaching, which had always been a dream of mine.
I don’t know if anyone remembers, or knows this, but around 2010 and 2011, it was very hard to get a teaching position. I went the first year after my graduation, filling sub positions because there were no teaching positions opening.
I was an elementary school teacher doing exactly what I wanted to be doing.
We have family who live in the same town (which is something I’ve always taken for granted,-not knowing). We were healthy. There was just SO MUCH to be thankful for. And this is not even getting into the basics, like clean water, food, lights, warm houses, vehicles for transportation… But I didn’t WANT to focus on any of that. That was the real problem.
I felt like I had to hold on to this unfairness. I had to hold on to this hurt, or else (in my mind) the pain would no longer be valid.
Acknowledge What You Are Feeling
What I needed and didn’t know I needed, was time and space to let the feelings be.
I needed to feel the feelings. Not just hold on to them and try to keep it together.
So, the first thing you need to do is give yourself the space to let-it-out. Whatever that means. It could be as simple as writing down your feelings. You may underestimate this, but I promise there is something so powerful about just getting things out of your head, or heart, and onto paper.
You can burn the paper or shred it into a 1000 tiny pieces after you write whatever you need to write, but you can’t hold back here.
I’ll never forget the day I actually wrote it all down. I was shocked… Like, “whoa where did that come from. This is not the side of Cason everyone knows.. The nice teacher who leads worship on Sundays.” But you cannot move on until you begin to heal and let yourself be okay with not being okay.
And, I know, right now you may not feel okay. You know you are not okay, but what are you actively doing about that? You can’t just sit in it.
Then we have to move on sister, okay? Because staying stuck in the hurt and pain is only hurting you more. And it’s affecting those around you as well.
Say What You are Feeling Out Loud
Maybe your current season is hard due to a loss you recently faced, or a loss you faced years ago.
The holidays trigger many things for many people.
Whatever the reason causing it to be hard to be thankful, be honest with yourself about it. Say it out loud. Write it down.
This is the first step to being thankful in hard seasons. Be honest about what you’re dealing with, and get it OUT. Do not let it stay in your thoughts.
This may look like literally saying out loud, “It’s not fair that _____” or “I wish that ____”. Whatever applies to your situation, say it all out loud.
Once you’ve given yourself some time and space to do this and get really real with yourself, the next step is to start small with a simple gratitude everyday.
And I know this is not what you want to hear, but if you’re reading this, then I’m going to assume you want a little help here, so stay with me.
Don’t stop listening or exit out.
This is important. I know you don’t see it now and you don’t feel like it, but I want you to just try this, okay?
I want you to choose one thing to focus on to be thankful for every day. Maybe it’s the same one thing until you can start to recognize more than one thing.
I didn’t know this until recently, but the word “gratitude” actually comes from the Latin word “gratia,” which means grace or graciousness.
The ADAA (Anxiety & Depression Association of America) says, “Scientific research supports a connection between gratitude, mindfulness, and mental health. For instance, psychologists Dr. Robert A. Emmons and Dr. Michael E. McCullough studied gratitude and found that people who wrote about the things they were grateful for are people who are more optimistic and who feel better about their lives. […] ADAA Past President Karen Cassiday, PhD, ACT confirms that over ‘fifteen thousand studies have proved the power of gratitude in improving mental and physical health.’ In short, gratitude can lead to better overall health.”
So again, stay with me. Don’t tune me out.
If possible, I want you to try to zoom out. Imagine we press pause on your life right now and you zoom out like a security camera somewhere, but we’re looking at your entire life.
You will have to use your mind here. Use your intellect to bring to mind what you KNOW to be true, even if you don’t feel it in your heart. And as you zoom out, I want you to look around your life.
Look outside of yourself. Notice what’s there you may be truly thankful for.
You may want to write these things down, or type them into the Notes app on your phone. It may be slow, but it will start to shift your perspective.
Ask for Eyes to See
Another thing you can do, which seems obvious, but is rarely our first go-to. Well rarely MY first go-to; I won’t speak for everyone… but prayer has not always been the first thing I turn to or think to do.
It has been my last resort in many seasons of life. But we can simply pray for God to show us our blessings. I trust when you do this, He is going to reveal these things to you. I like to ask Him to give me eyes to see and ears to hear Him, and I’ll be praying the same thing over you.
Sometimes in order to recognize our blessings and be truly thankful, we have to (for just a second) take our eyes off of ourselves, and take our focus off of our challenges for just a minute.
Your Pain is Valid
Again, I know that doesn’t feel good. But please hear me when I say, just because you shift your focus momentarily does not mean the pain isn’t valid.
It doesn’t mean what you’re going through is fair or right. It won’t justify that person’s actions or the loss. It doesn’t make the wrong things right…. But I want you to give yourself permission to release the hard and difficult just long enough to focus on one thing to be thankful for.
The more you can get into the habit of doing this, the more benefits you’ll see in your life.
Trust me. I know you can’t see it right now. I know you don’t believe it right now. But just give it a try. And not just once. Do it everyday.
If you need to, set an alarm on your phone. I would do this in the beginning when I wanted to practice more gratitude and thankfulness. I would set an alarm for a specific time each day and write “What are you thankful for right now?”
Remember, reminders become routines. You will eventually make gratitude a habit without even realizing it, with each time you do it.
But you have to actually put it this into practice.
Don’t Be Afraid to Start Small
Nothing changes if nothing changes.
You won’t magically become grateful or thankful in the middle of this hard season. It’s going to require you to take action and start small.
Don’t number your paper, 1-50 and try to come up with 50 things each day. That sounds nice in theory, but it’s probably not realistic.
Why would we underestimate the power of starting small? The power of one? One thought. One intentional thought about what you are thankful for right now, regardless of the season you are in.
I promise if you practice gratitude, it has the possibility to radically transform your life.