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November 27, 2019Evangelism & Discipleship

Thankful for the Bad: Upside Down Gratitude This Thanksgiving

Upside down gratitude is the ability to give thanks even for the parts of our lives which lead us to sadness and struggle and suffer.
Thankful for the Bad: Upside Down Gratitude This Thanksgiving

Arguably the oldest book in the Bible, the Book of Job has become, for many of us, a guidebook on how to suffer well (if there is such a thing). It is worth wondering why Moses (or another) chose to document the life of Job as one of the first entries of God’s faithfulness to humanity.

The book begins with a descriptive of Job’s character: “In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.”

In a seemingly senseless act, God allows Satan to, one by one, take away the blessings God has bestowed upon him—his livestock, his servants, his children. At this last measure, Job gets up, tears his robe, shaves his head, and falls to the ground in worship saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:20-21).

Job’s first recorded act in such loss is worship.

This would not be mine, I will be honest.

Nor has it been mine when pain and hurt and sickness have come upon me.

And yet my mind immediately goes to the suffering church around the world, who often, in one accord, cry, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord!”

Now we must not idolize Job. His responses (and his friends’ responses) over the course of the loss ebb and flow like the ocean’s tides. This is because Job, like us, was human. He could neither ignore the fears and anger and loss that gripped his heart any more than we can ignore ours today. But read where he lands the proverbial plane:

I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27)

His suffering lifts his eyes to his redeemer, and to a picture of the future that nearly (if not fully) leads him into a spirit of Thanksgiving. When all has been stripped away, still he has his Lord.

This Thanksgiving, we have already begun the practice of offering gratitude for all the good things in our lives—we thank God for our families, our friends, our health, our jobs. We thank him for food and shelter and his presence. We thank him for warm days and Christmas lights and soft candlelight.

Gratitude for the bad, too?

But in the practice of Job, what if we were to thank him for the suffering as well? If we are truly to be Kingdom people, we must push ourselves outside the norms of gratitude. Scripture says it is easy to be kind to our friends—but how much harder to our enemies. Scripture reminds us that when someone hurts us, we are not to hurt back, but to offer the other cheek. When someone takes our coat, Scripture nudges, we can give our shoes as well.

This is upside down thinking!

If our actions are to be countercultural, how much more are our thoughts and character?

This Thanksgiving, how can we practice upside down gratitude? At the Last Supper, we find Jesus giving thanks to the Father even while holding up the cup which would be a precursor to the suffering he was to endure.

Upside down gratitude, I believe, is the ability to give thanks even for the parts of our lives which lead us to sadness and struggle and suffer. Upside down gratitude allows God to turn our ashes into beauty, our mourning to gladness, our despair to praise. Here’s my short list (knowing that those who have experienced similar things may have the opposite reaction to their experiences, and that is okay):

  • I am thankful for a past that includes being violated sexually, for only in that can I better understand so many wounded around me and seek to love them from a healed heart. (I will write more on this in the days to come.)
  • I am thankful to be a woman even when I still feel like a second-class citizen, for only in this can I have a mothering heart that seeks to offer compassion and care to those feeling marginalized.
  • I am thankful for an eating disorder that almost took my life, for only in that did God reveal his deep love for me through the sacrificial love of my family.
  • I am thankful for my terrible eye condition, for only in this can I (literally) see the extraordinary power of humanity to create tools of modern technology to bless us in ways previously unknown.
  • I am thankful for my fears and self-doubt that frequently seek to overwhelm me, for only in these can I continually see how God over and over grips my heart of his glory and faithfulness.

The list can, and does, go on and on.

What’s your upside down list this Thanksgiving? How will you take the ashes and turn them into something beautiful?

Job’s suffering is real just like ours is today. But it doesn’t end there. In Job 42 we read that, “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part.” Let’s be truthful: we cannot say this will happen to us in tangible ways.

The richest people on earth are sometimes those without much money or housing or food or health. The wealthiest people are sometimes poor and weak and suffering deeply. What makes them as a beacon upon a hill in the darkness is that they are able to embrace an upside down gratitude that transcends anything this world has to offer.

This Thanksgiving, is it possible to be thankful for sadness and struggles and suffering? I believe it is. And I believe this spirit of gratitude can change our world—yours and mine.

Laurie Nichols is Director of Communications and Marketing for the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, creator of the Our Gospel Story curriculum, co-host of the new podcast Living in the Land of Oz, and she blogs at Not All Those Who Wander. She formerly served as Managing Editor for Evangelical Missions Quarterly. Laurie is involved in anti-exploitation efforts when she is not spending time with her husband and two kids.

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Thankful for the Bad: Upside Down Gratitude This Thanksgiving