The holidays, where we stuff our guts with warm, seasonal foods and read messages of gratitude, thankfulness and joy everywhere we go, are here. If we’re being real, I’m a skeptic of signs that demand me to do something or attempt to inspire me. It might be the cliché repetitiveness, maybe it’s because an inanimate object that’s never experienced pain or joy or gratitude is telling me to have a deep emotion about my own life, or possibly it’s just the distasteful design of most “inspirational” décor. I don’t know if it’s my young age fueling this rebellion towards the bossy demand to give thanks during the holidays, or if it’s just because I’m a person who craves authenticity. I know that forcing myself to feel some strong thanks or gratitude won’t necessarily come out genuine or real. Why should a date on a calendar decide when I need to be appreciative? Why does everything have to come off all merry and bright? Am I allowed to say the holidays are more difficult for me than the average day? I refuse to trick myself into putting a smile on, and shouting thanks from the rooftops.
But when it comes to the opposite, tricking myself into believing lies about myself, I’m the queen of enforcing fallacies; I go all in. Trusting that my thoughts of not being enough and having to do more to prove my worth and value are true. If I read a well-designed sign that said “Get mad at yourself for messing up that one time, then think about it over and over again for days”, I’d totally be all in, hang it in my kitchen, and realistically achieve that daily commandment. But when I see, “Give thanks” I freak out and know I don’t do that regularly in my days, and it feels almost like a guilt trip. Say your thanks today or else…
So the holidays are here, and I’m having a difficult time standing in front of God and saying thank you. Scripture overflows with stories of people giving thanks to God, and not just during the good times. That’s where I trip and fall flat on my face. I desire to be able to “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). But when my mom died two years ago from breast cancer, I didn’t know how to say thank you for my worst nightmare coming true. I’ve become distrusting of the way God is working out my life. I’ve trained myself to be a skeptic and cynical. In my head I know that God plans and acts perfectly, unlike me, but in the hour where I feel lost and alone and confused, the big picture of a perfectly laid out life isn’t easy to see. In my soul things feel bitter and cold, like I’ve got to send this life back to the kitchen and demand a better cooked one!
It’s not easy as pie, being sincerely thankful during this time of the year where traditions are accompanied by memories and empty spaces. But that does not mean it isn’t possible. It’s not about tricking yourself and faking it. There’s not a fix–it-all or a one and done, and it is not simply do this or that, but we have to start somewhere. Start where it is tangible. Before I can imagine saying thank you for my mom’s death when I was 19 years old, I have to step into the view of seeing God as good, and faithful, and loving. I have to open my eyes to seeing good things, big and small. That’s the challenge— not to force gratitude, but to train in thanksgiving. We should get a sign that says, “I want to give thanks, but sometimes I need help to clear the bitter fog in order to experience thanksgiving”, then ask for the help, start in a real place. God will help. Friends and family will help. You’re not alone during the awkward family meals, and pressure to be put together during the holidays. Allow room for real communication and thankfulness.
“But I will hope continually, and praise you yet more and more” (Psalm 71:14)
Lauren Craddock is a Graphic Design intern for Student Ministries at Flatirons. She hails from Michigan, loves to create things, drink tea, bake banana bread & is obsessed with puppies.