Some people live through some very difficult, sad seasons of life. We all live through some level of pain at some point in our lives. For some people, it can be challenging to feel thankful, to find something for which to give thanks during these seasons. For others, we can find things to be thankful for, but it feels like we're flipping through a "Where's Waldo?" book as we search our memories for the few good things that happened over the past year. Of course, there are many who had a wonderful year and have plenty of obvious reasons to give thanks.
At night, I climb into bed with my daughters and ask them three questions:
1. What was the best part of your day?
2. What do you want to ask God to help you with?
3. What do you want to thank God for?
Sometimes they struggle on #3, which surprised me at first. They have so much to be thankful for, don't they? A wonderful home, parents who love them, three meals a day, a good school, friends, a dog, each other, grandparents, cousin, aunt, uncle, clothes, toys, etc.
They almost never struggle with question #2. They ask God to help them with their flaws (attitudes), physical challenges (speaking clearly for Savannah), or personal desires. They can usually think of an endless number of things they would like God to change about themselves or others, or that they want God to give them.
What if #2 and #3 are really the same question? What if the challenges in our lives are actually His gifts to us, and that's what we should thank Him for?
The breaking of the alabaster box and the anointing of the Lord filled the house with the odor, with the sweetest odor. Everyone could smell it. Whenever you meet someone who has really suffered; been limited, gone through things for the Lord, willing to be imprisoned by the Lord, just being satisfied with Him and nothing else, immediately you scent the fragrance. There is a savor of the Lord. Something has been crushed, something has been broken, and there is a resulting odor of sweetness. -Watchman Nee
Watchman Nee became a Christian in mainland China in 1920 at the age of seventeen and began writing in the same year. In 1952 he was imprisoned for his faith; he remained in prison until his death in 1972.
How horrible, right? How awful that anyone would be imprisoned for his faith and live the last 20 years of his life in jail. It's a tragedy, right? No, it's not. It wasn't to Watchman Nee. It was a breaking so that the sweetest aroma could fill his broken body with new life and bless others.
This is not only a spiritual concept, it is a relationship concept. Whatever your faith, what is universally true is that the challenges of this life have the power to create something in and through our lives that can bless others. That power is in our hands; we determine what is created out of the pain we experience.
When life is confusing, sad, painful, difficult, challenging, unfair, surprising, overwhelming, or unbearable, then we have arrived at a place of decision. Prior to the pain, we could float along in the moment without having to decide what we believe, who we are, what is most important, where we are headed, etc. But when the pain arrives, then we will either be victim to it or victor through it. And what a wonderful life is grown when the seed is crushed and the roots dig deep into the soil.
I'll admit that there are times when I don't feel thankful. There have even been times in my life when I might have asked God: "Why should I be thankful?" But the response from heaven is deafening, even in a loving, small whisper: "Be thankful I am breaking you. If you were left as you are, then you would never know the treasure that lies inside or the blessing that you can be to others."
Our family has more to be thankful for than most. But there are times when instead of saying "thanks", I ask why 2 of our 3 daughters have special needs or why the road we've traveled has been so challenging in many other ways. We are blessed, though. Blessed by all we've been given, but also blessed by all that we have not been given and blessed by all that has been taken away.
What if we went around the table this Thanksgiving and gave thanks for the difficult things that we walked through this year? Many of us could because we are already on the other side of them. We can see the good that came out of the struggle. Many of us would find this challenging to do, though. Maybe you have been walking through something very difficult for months or even years. The last thing you feel is thankful for the pain.
But maybe it's time to stop resisting the breaking, and instead give thanks. Instead of embracing the pain, choose to walk towards a place of thanksgiving. As you do, the cracks in your alabaster box will start to deepen. That might mean that the pain will increase...to the point of breaking. And then the box will be completely destroyed past the point of repair. The cracks too many, the breaking too sever.
It is then that you will truly be thankful from the deepest part of you. You will know who you are and, more importantly, who made you. You will see others differently -- their lives, their hearts, their suffering. The pain that caused the breaking will be the key that sets you free. If you choose to give thanks through the pain, even more so, if you choose to give thanks for the pain, then you will discover a sweetness, a treasure, a person, a life that you had never known before.
My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon. -Japanese poet Masahide