Developing thankfulness in difficulty

Written by Andrea Jones
Published on November 17, 2023

It’s so easy to be thankful in good times—when the job market is good, when you’re able to go on a nice family vacation, or when everyone is healthy and thriving. It’s a different thing altogether to develop a habit of thankfulness when life is everything BUT that. 

I distinctly remember one very difficult season when I was pregnant with my first child in 2010. My dad had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and had less than 0.1% chance of survival. My world felt like it got sucked up into a tornado and I wasn’t sure where I would land when the storm was over. 

I kept expecting God to make my life easier, but instead, things just continued to get worse. At the same time, my mother became increasingly controlling, emotionally unstable, and manipulative towards me the closer I got to the delivery date. Without going into all the gory details, I was receiving mean and manipulative emails and texts all day while at work about how horrible of a daughter I was, how I needed to stop setting boundaries as I created a new family, and on and on. 

The stress of the constant interactions was causing physical health issues, and one day, while at work, I passed out and walked into a wall before collapsing to the floor at seven months pregnant. Thankfully, this incident happened in the presence of a doctor, who picked me up, put me in a wheelchair, and brought me downstairs to the ER to get checked out. Had I been at home when this happened, there is no telling the danger myself and my baby would have been in.

I remember being filled with disappointment as tears streamed down my face. I couldn’t figure out why life was so hard or what I had done to deserve any of what was happening. I felt angry at God for allowing all the hardship and yet I so desperately needed Him to be close. As I walked into our house after that ER visit, I remember asking the Lord the question, “God, how am I supposed to be thankful when everything is going wrong? I can’t see you. I can’t hear you. There is so much pain. I don’t understand!” And through my tears and anger, a thought popped into my mind and I knew it was the Lord speaking to me. He said, “Andrea, thankfulness protects your heart. It’s not to bribe me or coerce me to move on your behalf.” 

Without knowing it, I had partnered with the lie that God was waiting on my gratitude to change my situation—as if I had to appease him to get him to work on my behalf. Instead, what he was inviting me into was an honest conversation about my feelings and perceptions, while also partnering with the truth of who he is and who he wants to be for me in the situation that I’m in. Once I realized that God was offering me a tool that would keep me from bitterness and lingering frustration and overwhelm, I could begin to partner with him in thankfulness—regardless of my circumstances.

The gratitude or thankfulness was meant to act as a protective barrier against the hardships of life that would not relent. And so I set out looking for things to be thankful for. Truthfully, there wasn’t much in my natural circumstances that I could find, but I began with small things like, “God I thank you that you never change and that your mercies are new every morning. I thank you for your covenant of love to me that will never leave me or forsake me. I thank you that you are working on my behalf even if I can’t see it.” 

This isn’t just a biblical command—scientific research actually shows how neuroprotective gratitude is. Being thankful increases our longevity, our ability to use our imagination, and our ability to problem-solve. All things we desperately need when we are walking through difficulty.

God wasn’t asking me to pretend to be thankful for things I wasn’t. I don’t think I ever uttered the words, “Thank you for my dad’s brain cancer” or “Thank you for a difficult pregnancy.”  He wanted an honest conversation with me—just like he does with you! And because he uses every weapon formed against me for my good, he was using this difficulty as a training ground for my heart to learn one of the most powerful weapons to protect our heart and mind during difficult seasons—thankfulness.

We see often in the psalms that David begins his conversations with God by venting, airing out his frustrations, lamenting, and pouring out his dismay and difficulty, and then he swiftly turns to focusing on who God is and how God is working on his behalf to bring him to a good and fruitful place.

If you’re in a difficult season, know that God is with you. Here are some practical steps to developing an awareness of the good and positive things happening in your life and turning your focus back to Him:

1. Pour out your heart to God. Sometimes we need to get the messy and raw out of the way so that we can see the things we do actually have to be thankful for. Psalm 62:5 reminds us to pour out our hearts to Him, for He is our refuge. 

2. Use your senses! Look around at nature: notice as the bird outside chirps or flutters its wings, how the rosebud is blooming after a dry, cold winter, how the squirrel scampers across the fence in search of food, or the smell of grass after a fall rain. These may seem like small things to thank God for, but you are actually training your senses to look for the good in the world when it wants to focus on the negative.

3. Ask the Lord to lead you to a scripture that speaks to your heart and the season you are currently in. Most of the time, the Lord will first validate my emotions through scripture, but also that scripture will declare a part of God’s nature and character that I really need to latch onto. 

Here are some of my favorites:

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2). 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4).

4. Make a habit by setting an alarm. I know it sounds cheesy, but when I’m really struggling with my mental attitude, I set an alarm for every few hours of the day to pause, write a list, and declare my gratitude and thankfulness out loud. 

Consider a few extra resources:

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Andrea Jones

Andrea Jones is a mother of 2, owner of the international company Abundant Wellness With Andrea, Podcast host, and inner healing pastor at her local church in Vancouver Washington. When she’s not busy helping women balance their hormones and moods naturally, she is supporting her local inner healing team by providing training and equipping for ministry both locally and abroad. Becoming a special needs mom was not something she ever saw coming, but through the Lord’s help, guidance and strength, she has learned that her source of hope comes from Him, and has seen miracles unfold because of His abiding presence. 




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