I came across an interesting article recently that stated, “you have permission to not be thankful this Thanksgiving.” The author went on to share how he was going to choose a humbug mindset this holiday because 2020 has been a rollercoaster of emotions and challenges. To be honest, I get it, this holiday season is filled with tough choices and changes for families, but gratitude and thankfulness are to be expressed not just when things are going smoothly. Rather they are an attitude to be displayed both in the trials and blessings of life.
Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (ESV) I italicized the word “in” for a reason, because I think we often replace it with the word “for” which changes how we see the practice of gratitude. God isn’t asking you to be grateful for your family not being able to gather this Thanksgiving. He is not asking you to be grateful for the pandemic that has caused loss, hardships and hurts. God is asking us to find the things to be grateful for in these challenging times. I can be grateful for technology like Zoom that has allowed me to stay connected to loved ones. I can be grateful to have a job that allows me to work remotely. I can be grateful because of the daily walks I get to take with my housemate. I can be grateful for an amazing gluten-free pizza that gets delivered to my house way more often than I care to admit. I can be grateful that even though my travel plans have changed throughout the year, I have found different ways to refuel the wanderer in me. I can be grateful that I got to still do my digital detox weekend at the coast which helped to renew my spirit. I can be grateful for all the amazing people in my life who are still here, even if we are socially distanced or having to connect differently.
Practicing gratitude isn’t about forced positivity and it doesn’t mean that you ignore all the challenges you are facing. You most certainly can take time to grieve, but my prayer for you is that you don’t stay stuck there. God can empower you to be an overcomer, someone who is resilient and can find the good even in the hard times. Every time I visit my colleagues and the students and families who are part of the Africa New Life community in Rwanda, I am reminded that gratitude can be found whether we have plenty or little. For many Rwandans they are not just being challenged by the pandemic, but they have been dealing with poverty and loss from a genocide that took place in their nation over twenty-five years ago. And yet they find ways daily to rejoice and to share their joy and hope with those who come to visit, or through the letters our students send to sponsors here in the United States. That gratitude is not based on their circumstances, but based on their faith that God’s promises are true even if we can’t see the evidence of that in our lives currently.
When we talk about practicing gratitude, a lot of people immediately think of doing a gratitude journal, which I absolutely love and highly recommend doing, but here are some other ways to not only think about what you are grateful for, but to express your gratitude this holiday season.
- Make a gratitude jar: Find a mason jar as big or small as you want. Then take some construction paper and cut it into slips of paper. Put a marker or pen and the pieces of paper next to the gratitude jar then each day leading up to the holidays pause every time you walk by the jar and jot down something you are grateful for and fold the slip of paper and place it in the jar. On whichever holiday you choose, Thanksgiving or Christmas, plan “gratitude breaks” where you go to the jar and pull out a slip of paper and read out loud what you have to be grateful for.
- Send gratitude cards: If you are sad about not getting to see a family member or friend this holiday season, create a gratitude card for that person and send it to them for a sweet surprise in the mail. Inside the card you could write something as simple as “I am thinking of you.” Or you could write a personalized note filling in the blank, “Because of you….” and share what they have done in your life that you are grateful for.
- Make “thank” calls instead of prank calls: Sit down on the days leading up to the holidays and make a list of people who have done something nice for you lately or in the past. Then set aside time on or around the holiday to call and say thanks.
- Send virtual care packages: You might not be able to get together in person, but you can have fun and send a bunch of photos or silly video clips that will spark a smile and let them know that you are grateful for them this holiday season.
- Create gratitude rocks: My niece and I did this a few years back where we painted rocks with messages that inspire gratitude. Then you can take a walk and set the rocks in special places to surprise other walkers/hikers.
This holiday season, what if you focused less on who you are not with, and what you are not doing and more about who you are with and what you are doing? What if you focused on what you have, rather than what you may be missing out on? What thanks can you give in the middle of our hard circumstances? Gratitude amplifies positive emotions and increases your resilience in facing future challenges. Yes, this pandemic holiday season may have its challenges, but I still believe we can put the “thanks” in Thanksgiving and choose to give ourselves permission to create a gratitude habit that shines God’s light and hope even during the dark times. Who knows? Your thankful attitude may just be what someone else is thanking God for this year.