It’s Thanksgiving week, so naturally I’m pondering the many things I have to be thankful for. The Lord is sweet to continue to fill my mind with examples of his provision for which I’m grateful. But mixed in with my gratitude, is my constant companion — grief. I’m grateful and I’m grieving. Past Thanksgiving seasons I’ve only been grateful. This year, I’m learning to navigate how to be grateful in grief.
Grief is strange in that it’s always present, but not necessarily always dominant. Even though I’m back to functioning at full capacity, I still grieve the loss of Gracious, our Ugandan daughter who died while we were trying to adopt her, daily. My grief can find a way to invade any moment. When I do my grocery shopping at Wal-Mart, I pass by the little girl’s department and my heart hurts. As I kiss my boys good-night before sending them off to bed, I long to have one more sweet face to kiss and profess my love for.
Grief is two-fold. It not only reminds you of what you’ve lost that already existed, it makes you wonder what you’ve lost that hasn’t even had the chance to exist yet. My imagination is my own worst enemy in the latter. I’ve imagined dozens of scenarios of celebrating Thanksgiving with Gracious. I’m sure all who grieve can identify with the blessing and the curse of imagination during the holidays.
My enemy seeks to destroy me, and my grieving heart makes me weak and vulnerable. He wants me to doubt God’s goodness and love for me. He doesn’t want me to be thankful for what I have; he wants me to focus on what I don’t have. I plan to fight him this holiday season and I’ll share with you my battle strategy for choosing gratitude in grief. I will fight with the sword of the spirit. My battle strategy is simply to believe God’s word.
God is for me. “This I know, that God is for me” (Psalm 56:9). I have one enemy, and it’s not my good father. God’s word says he has good plans for me and not evil ones (Jeremiah 29:11). When those plans differ from my plans, it doesn’t mean he is against me. He’s still good and he’s still for me when his plans cause me grief. I choose to trust him, even when I don’t understand (Proverbs 3:5).
God is with me. “Fear not, for I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10). When Satan tries to make me believe that God has abandoned me in my suffering, I just have to remember his name — Immanuel. His very name means that he is with me. I am not alone. He’s not just with me sometimes, but all the time. He’s ever present (Psalm 46:1). He’s near to all who call on him in truth (Psalm 145:18). Grief can be isolating, but I am never isolated from my father.
God doesn’t keep good things from me. “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). The devil uses the same old tricks he’s always used. He tried to convince Eve in the garden that God was keeping her from something good by denying her the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He lied to her and he lies to me. I don’t believe him. I believe God’s word.
God loves me. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases” (Lamentations 3:22). He loves me so much he sent his beloved son to die for me. When the enemy tempts me to doubt God’s love because I don’t get my way, I choose to remember the cross. God’s love is not proven by what he did or didn’t do for me this year, it was proven by what he’s already done for me over two thousand years ago.
I am weak, but I know how to fight in weakness. I know what God says about my weakness, that when I’m weak, I’m strong (2 Corinthians 12:10). I believe him. My trust in my father gives me the confidence to fight my enemy. I fight in the strength of the Lord. I fight on my knees. I fight with God’s word.
Choosing to be grateful when you’re grieving is an act of war. My enemy wants to defeat me, but he doesn’t have the power. I’m not his. I belong to God, and victory is mine through him. God is not my genie in a bottle and he doesn’t behave the way I want him to. He’s not made in my image; I’m made in his. I exist for his glory and I know he is being glorified in my grief, just as he is in my joy. It’s all from him and for him.
For those of us grieving this holiday season, we have a choice to make. I choose gratitude in grief this Thanksgiving. I’m thankful that God is for me, that he is with me, that he doesn’t keep good things from me, and that he loves me. I’m thankful for the grace to choose to be grateful in grief. I’m grateful to be his and to be used, even if it means in suffering, for his glory. What will you choose?