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4 Ways to Be Thankful When Life Is Hard

Thanksgiving can exacerbate feelings of sadness as you see and hear about others who have enjoyable and festive gatherings with loved ones and friends. These times can be difficult, but you can still find reasons to be grateful.

Contributing Writer
Updated Nov 22, 2023
4 Ways to Be Thankful When Life Is Hard

Sometimes we have the wrong expectations for holidays. We commonly imagine a festive scene filled with family, warmth, and laughter. The table is set and photo-ready. Friends and family gather to reminisce and smile over plates of delicious food.

Our Thanksgiving holidays do not always look like this, though. Broken families, loss of loved ones, or illness can all mar the holiday cheer.

The disappointment increases if you spend time scrolling through social media and see all the loving gatherings that look vastly different from your own. At these times, it can be difficult to feel thankful.

The good news is that gratitude is not only for the pleasant and plentiful times in life. Expressing gratitude to the Lord is also important in times when we suffer and experience loss.

We may struggle to give thanks when life is hard, but by leaning into God and His Word, we can find reasons to be thankful for His goodness and love.

Seasons of hardship and pain provide us with opportunities to notice the profound and small ways that God shows His love.

1. Remember the Gift of Salvation

One way to be thankful when life is challenging is to remember what Jesus did for you. There was a moment in your past when you placed faith in Christ.

Before that time, you were dead in sin and separated from the Lord (Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 1:21). No number of good deeds or participation in religion could change your condition (Isaiah 64:6; Ephesians 2:8-9).

Then you learned about Jesus’ death and resurrection, and everything changed. You trusted Him to save you and received forgiveness for your sins and a new life (Ephesians 1:7; 2:4-5). Though you were lost, Jesus found you. He made you His own.

Reminding ourselves of the awesome truth of the gospel can give us hope when everything around us is hard. We think about where we were without Christ and begin to praise Him for all that He has done in saving us and conforming us to His likeness.

Yes, life is difficult in a broken world, but we have a living Savior who loves and cares for us. Nothing can separate us from Him (Romans 8:38-39).

For those who are experiencing challenging times this Thanksgiving, know that you still have reason to praise the Lord.

Like Habakkuk who rejoiced in the Lord despite a time of hardship and need, we also can say, “I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Habakkuk 3:18).

Even if everything else in life seems dark and hopeless, we can always give thanks for the salvation Jesus gave us.

2. Get Back to the Basics

In addition to thanking the Lord for salvation, we can also give thanks for the necessities of life He provides. Scripture tells us “If we have enough food and clothing, let us be content” (1 Timothy 6:8, NLT).

In context, this verse speaks to the need for contentment instead of greedily grasping for material wealth. However, we can apply this verse to be thankful for the provision God provides.

Lots of us may not have great wealth, but we do have food, clothing, and shelter. For that reason, we can give thanks.

Our gratitude for these necessities should increase when we consider people locally and globally who face severe poverty. For them, food is scarce, and obtaining other necessities is a challenge.

These difficulties have only increased because of recent events, such as the Global Food Crisis and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We do not have to look far to see the negative effects. For example, NPR provided the findings of a recent study by the U. S. Department of Agriculture which states that “44.2 million people lived in households that had difficulty getting enough food to feed everyone in 2022.”

That is a high number of people with food insecurity. Add that to the millions of others around the world, and we can see why we should give thanks for necessities like food.

Although I am not trying to invalidate the feelings of those who are suffering this Thanksgiving, I think reminding ourselves of the everyday provision of food, water, clothing, and shelter is helpful because we can easily take these blessings for granted.

Seeing the lack and suffering in the world can compel us to practice gratitude for simple things in life.

3. Notice the Little Things

Another way to add to your gratitude list this Thanksgiving is to notice the little things in life. In Jesus’ teachings, He used ordinary things in life to expound on profound truths. When discussing the Father’s love and care for people, Christ used the example of the sparrow.

The Lord sees the small sparrow fall from a tree and cares about the bird’s life (Matthew 10:29). How comforting it is to know, then, that He loves and values us even more than the sparrow (Matthew 10:30-31).

In another instance, He talked about how the lilies adorn the grassy fields. Even Solomon’s splendor cannot compare to God-created beauty (Matthew 6:28-29).

As Jesus said, “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you — you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:30). Such seemingly unimportant and ordinary things can remind us of the Lord’s love.

Hardship can keep our attention focused on immediate problems. However, we can find comfort and encouragement in noticing the small graces in life — the foliage of a tree, the smell of a flower, the call of a bird. In the ordinary, we can find great beauty that points us to our Creator and Savior.

4. Thank God for His Presence

We can also give thanks for the Lord’s constant presence in our lives. As believers, we have the promise that Jesus is with us always (Matthew 28:20).

He will never leave or forsake us, regardless of our circumstances (Hebrews 13:5). There is nowhere we can go where God will not be with us (Psalm 139:7-10).

Although we may recognize this truth intellectually, we may have difficulty in applying it. In challenging circumstances, the truth that God is with us can help us know we are not alone.

We may feel like no one cares or that we are alone in the difficulty, but the Lord is present. He understands and cares about our suffering.

Therefore, we can offer thanksgiving to the Lord for His enduring presence. He is the God who sees and never leaves. God is with us, and that is reason to rejoice and give thanks.

Why Does This Matter?

Darkness and pain may fill your days and you do not feel there is much to be thankful for. Thanksgiving can exacerbate feelings of sadness as you see and hear about others who have enjoyable and festive gatherings with loved ones and friends. These times can be difficult, but you can still find reasons to be grateful.

Thank the Lord for the salvation He gave you, for the daily provision of life, the beauty in the ordinary, and His constant presence. In so doing, you put into action the biblical command to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

For further reading:

5 Reasons to Be Thankful for Fall

4 Ways Parents Can Teach Thankfulness Amid Challenging Family Situations

7 Inspiring Bible Characters Who Teach Us about Thankfulness

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Cecilie_Arcurs

Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. She holds a BA in Ministry, a MA in Ministry, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing to develop her writing craft. As someone who is passionate about the Bible and faith in Jesus, her mission is to help others learn about Christ and glorify Him in her writing. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening. 

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