It’s that time of year again when everyone is supposed to stop and count their blessings and be thankful for all the things in their lives. But what if things feel so bad in your life that you’ve lost the ability to see the good things, or to even believe they exist anymore? What if you are depressed by current events or financial problems? What if you are in the middle of a difficult or challenging situation that is overwhelming your mind? Or what if you are experiencing sadness, hurt or disappointment that is overwhelming your heart? What if you don’t FEEL thankful? I ask because I need the answer myself.
Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time for us to gather together to count our blessings and remember all God has done for us. Most of us have time off at some point for the holiday weekend where we have the opportunity to stop and reflect, but often that reflection never happens or it is clouded by all the distractions going on around us. Thanksgiving, for many, has become nothing more than a long weekend filled with family arguments, frantic shopping, and stress of other obligations. For some, it has turned from an opportunity to relax and reflect, into four days of elevated heart rates, packed schedules and frustrated hearts and minds. For others, it is nothing more than a reminder of what they have lost or never had in life – whether it is family, love or material possessions.
It’s hard going into the holiday season when there are things in your life that are weighing you down. I think we’ve all experienced that sensation one year or another. For me, there is a lot on my heart and mind. Much of it I cannot share with anyone because it is something that needs to stay between me and God for right now, but it weighs heavily on me. Then you add the loss of holiday traditions that I used to love, and stresses of work and home, and I find myself overwhelmed by it all. Then I look around, and all I see is a coming weekend of frenetic activity that revolves around everything BUT something positive. It doesn’t make me feel very thankful at all. It makes me feel depressed, which then causes me to start thinking about everything that’s wrong or all the stuff I need to do. It sucks the gratitude right out of me, because the majority of the negative things I’m thinking about are valid. There ARE things that need to be resolved, things that ARE frustrating, things that DO hurt me. It’s all true, so how am I supposed to stop and be thankful? We must find ways to stop the madness, both externally and internally, so that we are able to find peace in the midst of the storms and thankfulness in the midst of our chaos. Here are some practical things to consider…
- Learn to say “No.” – I know it sounds selfish, but we all need to learn the word “no,” especially around the holidays. Do not commit to so many events, cooking, volunteering or family get-togethers that you are running continually from one thing to another. It’s okay to want to do all these things, but there are only 24 hours in a day and if you do not learn to say no, you will drain yourself to a point where you cannot do any more. Trust me, you will eventually break down in some way. Instead, decide what is most important to you and let the rest go. Besides, when you take it upon yourself to do everything someone asks you to do (or you think you need to do), you may be robbing someone else of the blessing of being able to step in and help or participate. You aren’t a martyr, so stop acting like one and set some boundaries.
- Create your own personal tradition – Traditions can be wonderful but life happens and sometimes those traditions end up changing or even disappearing completely because they involve others. Consider creating some traditions for yourself that do not depend on anyone else. For example, decide you are going to spend a certain amount of time doing something you enjoy. It might be taking a walk, listening to music, getting coffee, painting, or whatever floats your boat. Make it something you can do whether someone else joins you or not. If you are a person of faith, you can decide to set aside an amount of time – whether it is days, hours or even just a few minutes – where you get by yourself, turn off all the technology that is constantly pinging at you, and spend that time with your heavenly Father. It can be talking to Him or reading His word, but make it time just for you and Him. It is GREAT to have traditions with family and friends, but make sure you have some traditions just for you that are totally in your control. That way you won’t feel so sad or resentful when someone else fails to uphold traditions you used to treasure.
- Rest – I suppose this could go hand-in-hand with learning to say no, but you NEED to find time to rest. The holidays are filled with frenetic activity and even if you aren’t actively participating in all of it, the pace swirling around you will inevitably affect you. It’s like standing in the middle of a crowd that is fighting with each other even if you aren’t fighting. The stress of it all will still affect you even if you just stand there. Not participating in the holiday madness, doesn’t automatically mean you are resting! Resting is something we have devalued in our society and we need to get back to taking time to stop now and then. Go to bed at a decent hour and rest so that you are able to truly enjoy the things you choose to do each day. If you choose to participate in something that has you out late (or all night) then prepare and plan to take time the next day to rest, instead of engaging in all kinds of activities. If you don’t take time to truly rest, you will find yourself much more susceptible to the natural stresses that occur during this time of the year. Your fuse will be shorter and it will be almost impossible to not feel drained on all fronts.
- Pray – You can pray anywhere, any time. I’m not talking about the prayers you hear in church or on TV where it is filled with the “right” things to say and a bunch of “Lords,” “Fathers”, “thees” and “thous” but the kind of prayer that God actually takes delight in! TALK to God. Talk to Him like you would your best friend. If you’re angry, then tell Him. He already knows it anyway so you might as well be honest. If you’re sad or confused, then tell Him. Ask Him to help you because He has promised that He will! You don’t have to spend a certain amount of time praying or get on your knees. I pray all the time in my car, just talking to Him and telling Him what I’m afraid of, worried about, or need help with. I tell Him things that I thought were funny or things that made my day. Sometimes it is as simple as me saying, “Hey God, I was just thinking about how much I don’t want to go to work this morning, so would you please help me get through the day? ” That’s it. No fanfare and no righteous verbiage. I think He would much rather have us, as His children, just call Him like we do anyone else we have a relationship with. He already knows everything, but when you talk to Him like you would anyone else, it makes your relationship much more real and prayer no longer feels like an obligation. He enjoys hearing from us just like we enjoy it when our kids (or others) talk to us and want to keep us in the loop of their lives – even if we already know what they are about to tell us. And when God becomes real to us, then everything else changes.
Listen, no one ever said life was easy. We all have things that hit us and knock us down and steal our joy or gratitude, but making changes so that it can be restored can sometimes be just as hard. When you start setting boundaries and taking care of yourself, there are others around you who will not be happy. Don’t expect otherwise because it often requires them to adjust also, and change isn’t easy for most people. There are others who will have strong opinions and be more than happy to share them with you. They may try to make you see how “selfish you are being,” or get upset because you won’t join in everything they think you should be doing. But you see, they aren’t the ones who have to live with those choices or who have to answer to God for them. We are told to be thankful and to give thanks in ALL things, not just the good stuff or what we think is the good stuff. That being said, in order to clear the clutter out of your head and heart so that you are able to be thankful, you have to sometimes make difficult choices or change the way you approach things. Taking some of those steps listed above may initially cause stress for others but the bottom line is you are not responsible for everyone else. You are responsible for doing whatever is necessary so that you can prepare your own heart to be reminded of everything that you truly do have. That is often easier said than done.
There is much for which to be grateful. If you’re reading this, it means you woke up this morning. It means you took another breath. It means your heart beat another time. That means anything is possible today, tomorrow, or any time to come. What’s in the past is past, and the possibilities are endless for the future, but you will never be able to step back and appreciate that truth without a conscious effort. You can’t wait until you FEEL thankful, because the cares of this world will absolutely choke you until you can’t see anything else. You will never begin to feel thankful until you actually become thankful, and becoming thankful is something we should all strive for. When we take care of ourselves (in all areas), our hearts become softened to the whispers of our Father. When we rest, we are able to contemplate. When we reflect and contemplate on things, we begin to see the true meaning of life and nature of God. And when we see the true nature of God, we cannot help but become thankful. Becoming thankful is a choice based on what we know to be true. Once we become thankful, we begin to feel thankful, and it is then we are able to deepen our roots so that we are able to reach out in greater ways to the world around us and share a true spirit of gratitude and love. And that, my friends is what thanksgiving is all about.