There was a time when I believed I had very little for which to be thankful—painful, dark days when loss and feelings of sorrow weighed me down.
It was during this time that I learned the gift of thanks. Starting as a teenager, I have made it a practice of reading through the book of Psalms regularly. This book taught me how to pray personally, openly, and honestly to my heavenly Father, even when my thoughts and feelings were negative or downright bitter.
Being honest with God about my thoughts and feelings was such a relief. I was no longer pretending everything was okay because of the perception that “good Christians” should not struggle. That suggestion is a lie. Instead, I was openly expressing all my pent-up pain and sorrow to my heavenly Father. Through this process, I discovered the sweet presence of my tender, compassionate Father, who patiently comforted me in my pain and never judged me for the negative thoughts and feelings I shared with Him.
Surprisingly, as I shared my thoughts and feelings with Him, they no longer had such a hold on my heart. Gradually, peace replaced bitterness. I could see how the Lord had carefully and tenderly been walking with me through this dark valley. But this outcome was not simply because I was being honest with God. I was using the Psalms as my prayer instruction manual, following its patterns during many of these times of sharing with God. Though they would start with bitter tears, they ended with me acknowledging specific attributes of His character and remembering specific ways He had blessed me in the past.
This progression cultivated in me an ever-deepening gratitude towards God. My new response was a desire to thank Him for His amazing love, patience, compassion, mercy, wisdom and power. Psalm 103 became one of my favorites to pray back to God.
God taught me that thanks is a gift I give to Him in return for experiencing the gift of His compassionate presence—a never-ending cycle of thanksgiving in response to the blessings I realize and accept. The more of His blessings I realize, the more thankful I become. The more thankful I am, the more of His blessings I realize.
This repeated expression of gratitude has developed an ever-deepening love for my heavenly Father and awakened a desire to gift Him my thanks with more than words—in particular, sharing with others about His love and how I have invested the finances He has given me (my “allowance”) in things that will make Him smile. Giving has become a delight because it flows from a heart bursting with gratitude (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Perhaps you are experiencing a dark valley right now. Instead of pushing away those thoughts and feelings, express them to your heavenly Father. As you do, focus on Him: His character, actions and love. Gift Him your thanks. Repeat. Allow your increasing thanks to overflow in actions of gratitude. Repeat. Repeat. You, too, can experience peace and joy through the gift of thanks.