Thanksgiving in the Midst of Suffering?

I am a stewing, boiling cauldron of emotions.

CauldronAnger. Fury. Spite. Hot burning ingredients are roiling on the surface.

Underneath is a slurry of fear, anxiety, helplessness, hopelessness, impotence, sorrow, and dread.

Floating in the mix are chunks of denial, self-made hope (likely delusional at the core).

If you dig down to the bottom of the boiling pot, you will find traces of hope and peace.

But thankfulness?  It must be hiding somewhere like a subtle spice that sneaks up on you.

This morning, my wonderful and amazing wife and I were getting ready for the work day.  I can’t speak for my loving wife, but I was fighting back tears as the sudden suffering that was thrust upon us began to bring my cauldron of emotions to a simmer and then boil to life again as my brain become more and more active as I woke up.

As part of our morning routine, we have been taking time to pause in our process of getting ready to read the Bible verses and the daily passage in Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence.  And it was the reading of this morning’s Bible verses and devotional thoughts that set my teeth on edge and ushered up an internal snarl of spicy anger.

The verses were 2 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 3:17; Psalm 50:14. I wasn’t liking where this was going.

The first part of the devotional passage, though, is what caused me to nearly throw the book down in disgust.

“Thank Me.”

Just those first two words were enough to evoke an internal “yeah right”.  But I was able to proceed through the rest of that first paragraph intellectually agreeing with the concepts, though my heart was conflicted emotionally because I certainly did not feel like thanking the Lord for anything at that moment.

Thank Me for the glorious gift of My Spirit.  This is like priming the pump of a well.  As you bring Me the sacrifice of thanksgiving, regardless of your feelings, My Spirit is able to work more freely within you.  This produces more thankfulness and more freedom, until you are overflowing with gratitude.

As I type out the words, having sat with them for a while (and having spent time in prayer alone, then with a close friend, and then alone again), my heart can resonate with thanking the Lord for His gift of the Spirit.  The feelings of being abandoned by God to go through this pain and suffering have subsided some as I have thanked Him despite my feelings.  The feelings haven’t disappeared, nor do I expect this cauldron to stop simmering anytime soon, but my prayers of accusing the Lord of leaving us alone to suffer, have subsided (no promise that they won’t return at some point in the suffering situation, but they are being worked on by Him).

The second paragraph is not so easy to work though.  Not at the moment of reading. Not now.

I shower blessings on you daily, but sometimes you don’t perceive them.  When your mind is stuck on a negative focus, you see neither Me nor My gifts.  In faith, thank Me for whatever is preoccupying your mind.  This will clear the blockage so that you can find Me.

Sure, I can agree that the Lord does give us blessings every day, even in days of suffering.  It was also not lost on me that in a side comment in a sermon I preached recently (on the plague of darkness in Egypt in Exodus 10) I mentioned something along those lines.  Still, knowing something theologically and past experiences of knowing His blessings in the midst of suffering, doesn’t always directly translate to one’s heart wanting to acknowledge it while in pain.  Same goes with the line about a mind stuck on negative things.

What set me off was the call to thank Jesus for “whatever is preoccupying your mind.”  That was too much.  I didn’t want to this morning. Nor do I want to now.

Yes, I will thank Him for His presence in the midst of my thoughts on this suffering that I feel impotent to do anything about.  Yes, I have even gotten to the point of thanking Him for being my hope instead of setting my hopes on hope.  (It took some prayer-drawing…something I tried for the first time today…and more prayer to get to this point).  But to thank Him for this suffering? In the midst of this acute suffering?

As I reflected upon this annoying, irritating line, the Lord brought to mind some other painful experiences that I would not (and did not) thank Him for at the time.  As I look upon those, I am actually thankful to Him for the outcomes – both in how I have been able to comfort & minister to others who are going through similar experiences (2 Corinthians 1:3-11) and for the path He set me on in my life as a result.  In an odd way, I can actually thank Him for those sufferings now, many years later, but I can thank Him.

But as for now, in the midst of the current suffering, I am not so sure.  I can thank Him and praise Him in the midst of the agony (at least right now I can as I type this), but I don’t think I am at a place where I can thank Him for this situation.

I do know that scripturally, using proper exegesis, we are not commanded to thank Him for a given situation, but in the midst of the situation.  And to be fair, Sarah Young is not actually calling for me and others to thank Him for the situation but to turn my thoughts to Him rather than the object of my suffering…and thanking Him is a great way to do so.

I am not thanking Jesus for this suffering, but I can and am able to thank Him for who He is in the midst of this suffering.  Does that make the situation go away? No. Does it remove the pain? No; but the emotional intensity has been lowered and my thoughts have become more controlled.

In a way, it turns out that I have been able to thank Jesus for what has been preoccupying my mind while not thanking Him for the actual event itself – and I have found Him.

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One thought on “Thanksgiving in the Midst of Suffering?

  1. Pingback: Trusting in Suffering | Seth's Oasis

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