Thanksgiving’s Secret Sauce

Giving thanks. What is there to say? Everyone knows what it is. And everyone knows that it’s easy. *insert game show buzzer here*

I think that’s a bit like saying parenting is easy, until you have children. Patience is easy, until you have to wait. Thanksgiving is easy…until we don’t feel thankful.

I can give thanks when I feel joyful, or my son makes a 3 pointer in a game, or when my family is healthy. I can give thanks when friends welcome a new baby. But what about when there seems to be no trace of God in my life in any direction I look? What about when I feel oppressed? What about when the path toward emotional healing takes a sudden U-turn again and again and again? What about when the rug under my life is yanked away just as I was beginning to stand? What about then?

Well…then I give thanks. Again. And again. And again.

You might say “But I don’t feel thankful! They’re just words!” Say them anyway. “But they aren’t pretty sounding!” Say them anyway. “But they’re so dry!” Say them anyway. Dear one, say them to our God anyway.

You see, this is the moment, right here, when you actually live out what you believe – when your muscles are most ready to grow – that a thankful heart feels heaviest. This is when the words can’t seem to make it past your lips. When you feel like a liar if you speak them. When we are “no longer desiring, but still intending, to do [God’s] will.” This is the moment to give thanks to the One who grieves with us in our pain.

In my darkest days, living out my faith consisted of only a couple of practices, when I wasn’t crying out to God for mercy. I practiced writing down things to be thankful for in a journal, and I practiced circling the word “joy” when I read it in Scripture.

The practice of writing down things to be thankful for began in 2013 when my best friend, Jenny, shared Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts book with me (if you’ve not read it, I highly recommend it). What I learned in those pages would become invaluable to me over the next few years. Voskamp explains the intimate connection between thanksgiving and joy and how practicing thanksgiving brings forth joy. She shares that the Greek word “eucharisteo,” thanksgiving, envelopes the Greek word for grace, charis. But it also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning “joy.” I clung to this truth, even though I didn’t fully understand it, so closely that I even had a friend make a custom cuff with the word “Eucharisteo” on it, that I might have a visible reminder to give thanks in all things. “Thanksgiving always precedes the miracle…If thanksgiving is possible, then joy is possible.” And so I began to keep a journal of simple things to be thankful for. It was hard at first. I didn’t feel very thankful for anything and the things I was even remotely thankful for seemed so very trivial. And then I began to understand the purpose in the practice. In purposefully looking for things to be thankful for, I found tiny gifts throughout the day that I’d previously overlooked and categorized as nothing. If I could view them as gifts, then I could thank God for them and I could begin again to see Him as a good gift giver. Want to know what the first item on my list was? Candy Cane coffee. Not surprising. In fact, coffee is listed several times. Other items? Sweatpants, cheese, Greg and Aidan’s cologne that lingers on Zoey’s head after they’ve kissed her, bun warmers in the truck, the soft rustle of men serving communion in unity, indoor plumbing, pink highlighters, thunder rolling slow like wooden barrels, twinkling Christmas lights, Aidan’s lotioned skin, Donovan’s Barney Rubble feet, Keegan’s pen spring curls…

There is always, always, always, something to be thankful for.

Those dark days were joyless and so, interestingly, the word “joy” seemed to stand out everywhere I went and in everything I read. If you happen to thumb through my bible, you’ll see a pink circle around “joy” every so often. As I’ve read through Scripture, I’ve circled it even when I wasn’t necessarily moved by it and the habit has led me to be hyperaware of it no matter where I am. I see it on greeting cards, in novels, and subtitles to movies. Now as I read Scripture, I slow a bit when I see “joy” (joyful, joyous, etc.) and spend some time studying it in its context. What joy? Who’s joy? Why this joy? Was this easy joy? Or joy in the midst of hard things? Seeing the word “joy” in so many places is a reminder that God has placed joy all around me and I see it as a gift.

I do not feel joyful all the time. I forget to give thanks. And I’m not so sure that what I feel now is as much “joy” as it is just “less painful.” But one tiny-gift-noted at a time, and pink circle by pink circle, I’ve moved through the days and collected evidence of God’s goodness to count reckon against future hard days.

So the secret sauce is simply this: Find anything at all to be thankful for and thank the Giver. Repeat.

Well, that and cranberry.

By Angie Harrod