By Kim Gunderson
She looked at me with those big, dark brown eyes. “It was a horrible day.” Tears of frustration flowed as she poured out her disappointment and struggles over something that happened during school.
Partway through her tale of woe, the conversation shifted from sharing about a specific circumstance to creating a litany of all that was wrong in her life. That’s when I knew it was time to ask the question.
“So what was something good that happened today? One thing you can be thankful for?”
I understood her need to vent. We all need that, a safe place to share our frustrations and fears. But there’s a fine line between venting and verbal vomit, when all we do is complain. This conversation was heading in that direction.
With a roll of her teenage eyes, it was clear she knew the question was coming. A few short seconds passed before she shared not one, not two, but three things for which she gave thanks. A moment of parenting success.
It wasn’t always this way. A few years prior our family experienced a devastating house fire that also took the life of our youngest daughter, her little sister. Life became extremely difficult and it would’ve been very easy to stay focused on all the bad because there was a ton of it. It would’ve been easy to complain and whine and cry. We did plenty of that. But we didn’t stay there.
Something happened in those early days after the fire. I remember writing in my journal my sorrow and disbelief at my daughter’s death and the loss of our home. I wrote and lamented and cried as I poured out the broken pieces of my heart before God. Somewhere along the way, my lament turned toward thanksgiving.
How could I express thanksgiving after my daughter died? How could I see anything good when life had turned so utterly horrible?
“And always be thankful.” Colossians 3:15c, NLT
In the years before the fire, God revealed Himself to me through His promises and goodness, His protection and provision. I had years of practice expressing thankfulness in good times, so when the hard times hit, my heart knew what to do. The very God who set the number of days my daughter would live (Job 14:5) knew my name and all that had happened. The same God who captured every tear I cried (Psalm 56:8) promised He would never leave me nor abandon me (Deuteronomy 31:6).
King David experienced this, too. Enemies pursued him, kings wanted him dead, and there were times he lived in fear as he hid in caves.
“I am surrounded by fierce lions who greedily devour human prey—whose teeth pierce like spears and arrows, and whose tongues cut like swords.” Psalm 57:4, NLT
Life was hard but he acknowledged his circumstances and then declared faith and trust in the One who controls those circumstances, through a heart of thanksgiving.
“Be exalted, O God, above the highest heavens! May your glory shine over all the earth.” Psalm 57:5, NLT
David had years of practice growing his faith and trust in God. He knew God intimately. When he was a lonely shepherd, David sang praises to his Father in heaven. He stood firm in the face of danger as bears and lions attacked his flock, trusting God to protect him. He experienced God’s promises in smaller events so when larger trials came, he knew God would continue to provide all he needed.
“My heart is confident in you, O God; my heart is confident. No wonder I can sing your praises! I will thank you, Lord, among all the people. I will sing your praises among the nations.” Psalm 57:7 & 9, NLT
And when we experience God’s power and promises as David did, as I have, our faith grows strong and our hearts overflow with thankfulness.
“Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” Colossians 2:7, NLT
How do we develop a heart that overflows with thankfulness?
1. Spend time with God, learning about the promises He has for you as found throughout Scripture.
2. Acknowledge your circumstances, good and bad. Don’t pretend life is good when you’re struggling, and don’t downplay the good when it’s really there. Look for evidence of God’s goodness or examples of His promises in every situation.
“Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living.” Psalm 27:13, NLT
3. Record your circumstances in a journal. Don’t just list what’s wrong, and don’t just make a list of what is good. If life is challenging, write it out and include where you see God’s goodness and promises within your circumstances. If life is going well, do the same thing. Your words today will be an encouragement to you in the future.
4. Tell God “Thank you.” We forget to do that sometimes, don’t we? To simply say, “Thank you.” To express our gratitude for the way God provides and protects, how He loves and forgives.
What are some ways you have developed a heart that overflows with thankfulness?
Kim recently admitted she’s a true Midwesterner at heart, having lived in the Chicago area for the majority of her life. She loves watching the seasons change, especially as winter gives way to spring. Kim has raised four kids—two by birth, two by choice—and recently welcomed a son-in-law into her family. She’s the author of Breathing in Ashes, a memoir that shares her story of hope after the death of her youngest daughter. She also blogs over at www.abigumbrella.com and is a contributing writer for Ask God Today Ministries.
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