In everything give thanks – but don’t give thanks for everything.
I heard an excellent preacher make this statement one Sunday morning and it’s stuck with me ever since. How many times had I misread 1 Thessalonians 5:18? If you’re like me, you’re most likely not going to look up this reference and see what it actually says – so here it is: “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God…”
A series of studies have come out in the past decade seemingly pointing to stress and depression causing a physiological ‘shrinkage’ of the brain. I chuckled at this since it seems to make sense that the more we become inundated with the anxiety, worry and stress around us, the smaller our worlds (and brains) become! Conversely, the more we externalize our focus on others and on God, the larger our world becomes (I guess our brains stay the same size in this scenario… no published research here).
I mention this study to underline the importance of having a ‘thankful heart’ to enlarge our vision, our world and our reality. Dr. Martin Seligman (University of Pennsylvania) continues to be a trailblazer in the new discipline of Positive Psychology because he teaches the importance of thankfulness, altruistic behavior, and overall getting your eyes off yourself and focusing your life on others.
God is not vying for you to thank Him for everything – rather thank Him in the midst of everything. Another way to represent this is: Love your neighbor in spite of their behavior, but you certainly don’t have to love all their behavior.
Often times I was under the delusion that I had to somehow find the good in the midst of a tragedy. For example, when my mother died, I wasn’t sure if I was somehow supposed to find the ‘good’ and be thankful (i.e. thank you God she didn’t suffer longer?) This didn’t seem right!
God is asking us to show thankfulness in spite of our surroundings, not necessarily for the particular surrounding(s). Consequently, in my scenario, it wasn’t a matter of thanking God for some minuscule ‘good’ within my loss and grief, but rather giving thanks in spite of my loss and grief. I could still thank Him for His faithfulness, love and friendship even though it may not have been presently observable (at least to me).
When you face setbacks or tragedies, remember that God desires for you to develop thankfulness in spite of and not necessarily thankfulness for.