‘Tis the season to be thankful. But what if this year the holidays feel like salt on an open wound?
I have a confession to make—there was a point when thankfulness was a struggle. I’ll explain but first, it’s been a minute since I’ve blogged (um, more like MONTHS!). In case you are new here, last February, I was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. My prognosis was pretty grim. Although I did some blogging when I was able, I have taken a much-needed period of rest (If you missed those posts, start reading HERE).
Health Update: After a year and a half battle, and against the odds, my latest bloodwork and CT scan from a few weeks ago show NO EVIDENCE OF DISEASE! All glory to GOD!
However, when my brother and sister-in-law were killed in a car accident in 2020, I began to struggle with thankfulness. Seriously, my faith took a nosedive. Watching my daddy drop to his knees at the sight of his son’s mangled body was gut-wrenching. I was so deep in the trenches of grief that, to be honest, I didn’t realize my heart was growing hard. As a believer, it’s something I’m ashamed to admit. Then toss in some other difficulties like COVID taking over the world, America becoming increasingly violent and divided, and then finding out I had stage 4 cancer with only a 10 percent chance of survival—I was hopeless, weary, and shaken to the core. My “hope light” in God was barely a flicker and the devil was right there huffing and puffing threatening to blow my house down.
And when you feel hopeless, it’s difficult to foster thankfulness.
Ever been there?
Despite my feelings, I still read my Bible and prayed daily. Let me repeat that. Despite my feelings, I still read my Bible and prayed daily. Somewhere amid the darkness—God’s light broke through. He revealed my hard heart and what to do about it. By the way, God reveals our sins out of love and shows us how to do better. The enemy just heaps shame and condemnation without a solution. During my journey with grief, loss, and cancer, God never left me. It just took me a while to adjust my gaze away from the daunting circumstances to the One who was cradling me the entire time. Here’s a few ways He taught me.
5 Ways to Cultivate a Thankful Heart When It Hurts
1. Stay connected.
- Do not Stop talking to God. When things seem bleak, we tend to isolate ourselves. This is a classic tactic of the enemy. He not only promotes isolation but like a lion hunting prey—he pounces on the alone, sickly, and weak. “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1Peter 5:8 emphasis mine)
- Pray and read Scripture all the more. Be humble and honest with God. He already knows what’s going on anyway (Psalm 139). “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1Peter 5:6-7) “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)
- Give God a chance to speak. If you want to hear from God, read your Bible. The most common way the Lord speaks to us is through His word. Of course, He uses other methods like sermons, music, people, dreams, and circumstances.
- Do not stop meeting with other Christians and going to church. God uses others to draw us closer, teach, encourage, and hold us accountable. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
2. Recall what God has done.
When we are in the midst of a trial, often we become fixated on our problems like a camera lens that zooms in on the intricacies of an object. In doing this, all the things God has done fade into the background, and soon, we are in a pit of hopelessness. But we can zoom out!
- Choose to remember ways God has blessed you in the past. Keeping a journal helps with this.
- Read the Psalms ( example Psalm 77:11-20)
3. Shut down lies.
God is truth. “The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.” (Psalm 119:160) “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Satan is the Father of lies. He is continually looking for ways to twist the truth and lead us away from the Lord. “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)
God has given us spiritual weapons to demolish the devil’s lies. “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)
- Ask the Lord to help you identify ways satan has infiltrated your mind with lies.
- Take the lie captive. When you have a thought that doesn’t coincide with scripture (God doesn’t care, God wants you to suffer, you aren’t worthy of God’s love, etc), do not ignore it, or just swat it away like a fly. This little thought has the potential to grow and usher in more!
- Cast it out. Tell the devil to take a hike the way Jesus did (see Matthew 4:1-11)
- Replace the lie with the truth. Jesus said, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ (Matthew 4:10). The truth is NOTHING can separate us from God’s great love! (Romans 8:35-39)
4. Praise and worship.
I know, this seems counterintuitive. I mean who can worship when they are in the pit? I’m not saying to fake it ‘til ya make it. Let’s learn from David. In Psalm 40, David reveals that his heart was not full of worshipful feelings. He felt like he was in the pit of destruction (verse 2). And yet, somehow, David ends up singing. How? “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.”
Sometimes, all it takes is playing a worship song, and our hearts begin to soften and singing ensues. But other times, like David, we aren’t feelin’ it.
- Be honest with God.
- Ask Him to give you a heart of worship (Matthew 7:7).
- Then wait expectantly.
5. Pour Into someone else.
It might feel like we have nothing to offer when our lives are in turmoil. But the truth is, there is usually someone worse off than you. Jesus said we will all face hardships and trials and there is no shortage of finding someone who needs you. Helping someone else (especially when you are struggling) has a boomerang effect. Not only does the love you give come back, but it also seems to be magnified. “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38) Here’s a few ways:
- Pray for others.
- Send a card, call, or text.
- Give a meal, or gift card, and send flowers.
God healed me from stage 4 cancer and I am over the moon thankful! In fact, my eyes are blurring with tears as I write. Here’s the thing. I’m not out of the woods. I am still struggling with painful and sometimes debilitating neuropathy in my hands and feet and a host of side effects from the harsh chemo drugs. I am also taking a daily chemo medication to “keep cancer at bay” which also has unwanted side effects. I must take this medication because 95 percent of women diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer will have a reoccurrence.
But God taught me how to cultivate a thankful heart even during the pain, and I refuse to waste time. I remain alive for His glory. I have work to do! And the same is true for you, my friend. God is good and He is always with us even when we don’t feel it (Romans 8:38-39). I pray this post is not only an encouragement but a helpful tool to keep pressing on with a thankful heart.
“As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.” (Psalm 71:4)
Happy Thanksgiving! 🦃
Let me know your thoughts and how I may pray for you in the comments below. 🙏❤️
P.S. I am halfway through writing a book, Courageous Hope: A Warrior’s Handbook to Suffering Well.
The book will include my story along with a few other believers who not only survived hardship but thrived as they allowed God to transform their hearts. Also included is a Tactics and Tools section to equip readers when faced with the spiritual warfare that often accompanies our trials.