Tis the season for being thankful. As I type this my house is full of family, my pantry and refrigerator(s) are full of food and drinks. The cards are shuffled, the game boards are ready and the football schedule is posted. There is so much to be thankful for. And yet…
Our septic system had a crack in it right behind our house just days before company was coming. So instead of getting some of the things done that we wanted to, my man had to fix that. Nothing like being knee deep in poo mud. I AM thankful he knows how to figure things out and we didn’t have to hire someone to do it for us…$$$. I AM thankful that he was actually home and off work so he could fix it. But it still sucked. Can I even say that? Especially during the month of thankfulness.
I know there are people who can’t afford the extra holiday food. Or enough food for their family at all. Others who hate their family. Some who will have empty chairs around their tables. Others who are having marriage trouble. Some who struggle with depression and anxiety and the holidays only exacerbate it. The list goes on. And yet…
As I scroll through my social media, I see all manner of people participating in things like 30 Days of Being Thankful and proceed to post pictures of their family members, dinner table settings and pets. But on the other side of the screen, looking past the perfectly filtered square that appears on my phone, they are struggling. Mentally. Emotionally. Physically.
Then there are the people who want positive vibes only! No negative thoughts here! Without ever addressing the heart of how hard life is right now. It’s as if they are saying, Don’t ask me about __________. It is what it is and I’m just going to have to deal with it so I may as well think positive.
But is that helpful? Do people feel the pressure to show well and ignore reality? Could there be a dark side to this whole thankfulness thing?
I’m really not trying to be a Negative Nancy but I fear Positive Pollyanna has caused some undo stress and strain as she’s taught us to ignore the pain and push down the real feelings that need addressed.
So, let’s talk about it.
The Grumblers and Complainers
As the Israelites were wandering in the desert, we see time after time where the Lord provided. They complained to Moses about being thirsty from lack of water, God provided thirst quenching H2O.
They complained about food, the Lord provided Manna…something that means what is it?, something that no one had seen before, tasted before, experienced before. Food that was simply there for them when they stretched and yawned and walked out of their tents each morning. Provision enough for each day with more on the sixth day so they could rest on the seventh as God commanded.
Then that wasn’t enough. They tired of manna and wanted meat. God provided once again in the form of quail.
They had clothes that didn’t wear out. Shoes that didn’t wear thin. Signs of when to move and when to pitch their tents.
God proved Himself as Jehovah-Jireh, the God who provides.
And yet they grumbled and complained. The thrill of what is it? became is this what we’re having again! Quail provided for free gave way to a hankering for something more.
The riffraff among them had a strong craving for other food. The Israelites wept again and said, “Who will feed us meat? We remember the free fish we ate in Egypt, along with cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now our appetite is gone, there’s nothing to look at but this manna!” (Numbers 11:4-6)
I thought quail was meat? The “free fish” wasn’t really free…not when you are a slave to Pharoah.
God had some thoughts and feelings when the Israelites started complaining openly before the Lord about hardship. He was ticked off about it and His anger burned, fire from the Lord blazed among them and consumed the outskirts of the camp.
Grumbling and complaining with no recognition of anything good given is a bad habit that needs to be broken. You know those people…the inability to find the nugget of goodness, even when goodness is overflowing. A critical spirit is not a thankful spirit. I never want the Lord, or others, to see me and think ungrateful riffraff.
Let’s keep talking this thing through.
Jesus Gave Thanks
We see Him give thanks several times in scripture:
Before feeding the 4000 in Matthew 15:36. Even in the not enough.
Before feeding the 5000 in John 6:11. Even with what little He had been given to work with.
Before raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11:41. Even in His grief.
Before sharing wine at the Passover meal in Luke 22:17-18. Even when the future looked hard.
Before breaking bread and sharing wine at the Last Supper in Luke 22:19 and Matthew 26:27. Even though He knew He would be betrayed by a friend and beaten unfairly.
Jesus teaches us to be thankful even when.
But there is more.
Jesus Showed Appropriate Emotions
He was angry in the temple. (Matthew 21:12-13)
He was grieved over the death of His friend Lazarus. (John 11:35)
He was genuinely saddened when He saw the state of Jerusalem. (Luke 19:41-44)
He was sorrowed and deeply troubled in the Garden of Gethsemane. (Matthew 26:36-39)
He was true to His emotions. When He was angry, He showed it. When He was grieving, He gave Himself room to experience it. When He was sad, He let Himself feel it. When He was anxious and dreading what was to come, He was honest with how He was feeling.
He didn’t stuff them down, cover them up or tell Himself He shouldn’t feel what He felt.
What does this tell us?
Thankfulness versus Toxic Positivity
Positive thinking is when you try to will good feelings or experiences into existence by focusing exclusively on the outcome you want. While this approach can be helpful when working through paralyzing fear, it can become toxic. If we “positive think” our way through hard things as a means to avoid or deny real feelings or experiences, we run the risk of invalidating the situation.
You’ve heard it said that we don’t always get to choose how we feel but we do get to choose our response to those feelings. Toxic positivity says you should or shouldn’t feel a certain way so we shove it deep down and tell ourselves to “think positive!” or “I should be thankful.”
Psychotherapist Jody Kemmerer says, Gratitude actually comes after a process of surrendering to our painful emotions, not after willing in something positive.
The point here is that in order to experience something positive such as gratitude, we must first be real with ourselves about what we are feeling. Whether it be grief, anger, envy, or shame, the only way out is through.
Therefore, the first step in cultivating a thankfulness is to validate what we are actually feeling—no matter how painful or “wrong” it seems. When we can find the kernel of truth behind what we are feeling, we move toward understanding and acceptance. In order to shift toward gratitude, we must surrender.
Thankfulness and true feelings are not an either/or but both/and.
Jesus shows us this as He is grieved over the death of His friend Lazarus, yet grateful that His Father heard His prayer.
There is truth in the fact that there is always something to be thankful for but it doesn’t take away from the fact that standing in poo mud stinks…
More of the “Being” series:
Being Seen: Truly