3 Ways to Fight for Gratitude When Your Heart is Heavy

day 5

I of all people should have no trouble coming up with a post on the topic of gratitude.

My life is filled to the brim with more blessings than I could ever deserve. This year our family has completed the adoption of our eldest son and welcomed a healthy new baby girl. My husband and I have a solid marriage, four beautiful children, and an incredible family, group of friends, and church body. We’ve been able to pursue great educations, we have our health, and there is always enough food on the table.

So it’s been puzzling me why, in light of all these and countless other real and wonderful blessings, I’ve been having trouble getting into the holiday spirit this year.

I normally count down the days! I usually can’t wait for these weeks to come, when we gather together with our loved ones to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year. The recipe-making, gift-shopping, decorating, singing, eating, resting… it’s a busy season to be sure, but one that typically fills me up with joy.

“What’s wrong with me?” I’ve been wondering. “Where’s my enthusiasm? I have so much to be grateful for, this year of all years. Why am I not more excited than ever to celebrate?”

Then yesterday afternoon, during a rare quiet moment of overlapping naptimes, I began scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed and it hit me.

The world is deeply hurting.

And I can’t help but hurt on its behalf.

On an international scale there has been devastation of all kinds in recent months. Acts of terrorism. Fatal natural disasters. A massive refugee crisis. And these just name a few. Across the globe innocent people are being attacked and murdered, while thousands more die of starvation, dehydration, and treatable diseases. People are aching for help, for hope. Many will die without receiving either.

On a national scale, even right here in my city, there is immense suffering too. Families who have endured years of horrific conditions in refugee camps and are finally arriving on American soil, are having to start all over with a new language in a new land surrounded by terrified people who do not want them here. Others have lived here all of their lives but are living paycheck to paycheck, just one bill away from eviction and homelessness. Still more are just kids, innocent and confused, holding the hand of their assigned social worker back and forth between parental visits, court appointments, and nights spent in a home not their own while they wonder, “what did I do wrong?”

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And in my own circle, amongst my own people, there is confusion and sadness, anger and grief. I have loved ones battling cancer; struggling with addiction; waiting with aching hearts for the blue double lines to finally appear. Many have had curveballs thrown at them and are trying to regain their footing. Most know that God is near and He is good, but at the moment, it doesn’t feel like either is true.

So last night as I tucked my children into their warm beds in spacious separate rooms filled with more toys than they could ever play with, I couldn’t help but think of the mothers across the globe that were rationing out the last of the rice, unsure of what they were going to eat tomorrow. It felt so unfair.

After having mulled over these things all day, stuffing down the emotions they brought, that thought undid me.

I collapsed onto the couch next to my husband and just began weeping. The kind of weeping that is ugly and uncontrollable, that takes over your body and your mind until the emotions that you’ve pent up for so long have swept through you from head to toe. It felt like I’d been carrying around a weight of all my sin and unworthiness, coupled with the pain others were enduring and my inability to control any of it… and I finally let it crush me.

I might be wrong, but I’m thinking surely, I’m not alone. I’m thinking you, too, have probably been carrying around this same kind of stuff lately. Asking the same questions, “why them, and not me?” and “why would you allow that, God?”

My husband, in his kindness and wisdom, just listened and let me cry. He knew what we all know: that there are no easy answers to these questions, no neat-and-tidy solutions to the problems the world is facing. Then after giving me the comfort I needed in the moment, he gave me the space I needed to process afterwards. Below are three of the main things God showed me in the stillness of the night last night as I searched His Word for clarity and hope.

Here are three ways we can fight for gratitude when our hearts are heavy:

  1. Let’s grieve, and let our hurt prompt us to pray.

In times like these I’m tempted to retreat and quit watching the news altogether. I used to give myself permission to do this because my personality was hypersensitive/the news is biased anyway/what good would it do to get all emotional about it? But one look at Jesus and my pitiful attempts at self-preservation are exposed for what they are: selfish. He did not remain stoic or avoid emotional distress, but rather grieved when the situation called for it. Over and over again we see examples of this:

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept.” John 11:33-35

 “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!’” Luke 19:41-42a

“And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.’ And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.” Mark 14:33-35

So let’s follow Christ’s lead and let our hearts be wrecked when others’ hearts are wrecked, however hard that may be. Then let us immediately go to God, giving thanks whatever the circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18), and asking Him to work and heal and move. In the same way we love for our children to come to us with every skinned knee and scraped elbow, our Father loves when His children cry out to Him with our needs, our hurts, our pleas. And God promises that when we refuse to be anxious, but instead go to Him in prayer and thanksgiving, that then

“…the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

  1. Let’s remember that He gives and takes away, and let it prompt us to store up our treasures in heaven and not on earth.

“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21b

If there were anyone who had an excuse not to be thankful, who had a free pass on the whole gratitude thing because of the immense loss he had suffered, it would be Job. Yet we see that immediately after he learned that he’d lost everything he held dear, his possessions and livelihood and even his ten children, his response was one of worship and recognition that God and God alone was in control of his life. We sing these words set to music in church on Sundays, but do we let the gravity of them truly sink in?

Everything we own, all that we see and feel and hold so dearly—our possessions, money, health, even our friends and family—belong to God (Psalm 24:1). He gave them to us and He has all the power to take them away if He so chooses. So instead of gripping so tightly to our things; instead of mourning what we may have recently lost; instead of making wish lists and stressing out about Christmas shopping, what if we shifted our focus to laying up our treasures in heaven instead (Matthew 6:19-21)? What if we regarded our things as what they truly are—just things—and gave our full attention to loving God and loving people (Matthew 22:37-40)? I think we would find that we’d be a lot more generous with our possessions, and a lot more content, as the early church was:

“And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Acts 2:44-47

  1. Let’s give thanks for what cannot be shaken, and let it prompt us to tell others the Good News.

“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken…” Hebrews 12:28a

I don’t know what you are going through as you read this. I don’t know what your Thanksgiving was like yesterday. I don’t know what’s been keeping you up late at night, what’s been dominating your prayers as of late, or weighing on your heart so heavy you think it might break.

But I do know this: if you are a believer, then you have hope. If you have trusted God with your life, then you have salvation from every sin that tries to ensnare you, and that salvation is found in the person of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. No matter what this life may bring, we are promised an eternal life in the presence of God when we pass from this world to the next. His kingdom cannot be shaken!

We as Christians do not have all the answers to all the world’s problems. But we do have what matters most: the Gospel, the ultimate Good News, that Christ lived a perfect life, died for our sins, and rose on the third day conquering death. This trumps anything else we have to offer. Salvation through Christ alone is the only Truth that can change people’s lives forever.

So this holiday season, as I fight for gratitude with a sometimes-heavy heart, I will let my grief prompt me to pray for the nations.

I will remember that my things are not my own, and will be ready and willing to be generous with what God has entrusted me with to help others in need.

But above all, I will recognize that what matters most is the Truth that can change people’s lives, and I will share it with everyone the Lord puts in my path.


French Bread

(my momma’s recipe; can be made into rolls, loaves of bread, pizza crust, pigs in a blanket—it’s the simplest, best all-around homemade bread recipe you could ever find!)

1 ¾ c. warm water (not hot!)
2 pkg. dry yeast
2 T sugar
2 tsp. salt
2 T oil
4 ¾-5 ¼ c. flour

Combine warm water and yeast in large mixing bowl; add sugar and let sit for 10 minutes. Stir in salt and oil; add 3 c. flour with wooden spoon; stir in the rest and knead for 5 minutes. Remove dough and spray canola oil spray inside mixing bowl; return dough to the bowl; flip dough so that the top is thinly covered in oil; cover bowl with thin kitchen towel and let rise 1 ½-2 hours. Shape into whatever you’re wanting; let rise another 15-30 minutes for maximum softness; bake at 400* for 10+ minutes depending on shape. HUGE crowd pleaser and will go great with Thanksgiving leftovers!


Family of 6 portraitAbout the Author

SARAH TARLETON

I am a disciple of Christ, wife to a handsome M.Div. student who loves to preach, and momma to four 5-and-under precious, feisty kiddos who each have their own hashtag on my instagram (#nerdalert). The hubs and I actually met as MKs in Moscow, Russia, and the six years I spent living overseas in Europe and Asia gave me an unquenchable love of traveling, as well as a fierce desire to live my life looking at people through His eyes and loving them with His compassion. In this season of life my days are spent quizzing my husband with Greek flashcards, playing dress-up with my kids as a stay-at-home mom, cooking homemade meals for starving seminary students as dorm mom, and helping lead the MOPS group at my church in Fort Worth, Texas. In between I read a lot of books, take a lot of pictures, and constantly rearrange our furniture.

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