Why Give Thanks When Life is Hard?

On an uneventful morning in January, I opened up an old prayer journal to write down my thoughts. There—dated January of the year before—lay a heartfelt prayer about the future. When I wrote the prayer, the future lay open before us. My husband prepared to graduate from seminary and we had no idea what would be next. So, that morning, I had prayed for clarity, housing, and a church family. I prayed for strengthened trust in a God I already trusted.

I lifted my eyes from that written prayer to the home around me. We'd moved in just six months earlier. Our trinkets, toys, and crafts topped the mantel, filled baskets, and decorated corners.

"This is our home." We were living God's answer to our prayers.

Too easily, I forget that my life is made up of many, many answered prayers. Prayers for recovery, for clarity, for God's presence. Prayers for hard-fought forgiveness, strengthened friendships, and deeper faith. Prayers offered in the valleys of despair that eventually gave way to the sweet relief only God can provide.

According to Scripture, God's will for us is to rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:16–18). Gratitude doesn't always come naturally—it must be cultivated. But when we begin to express gratitude, we'll more easily discover all the once-overlooked ways God provides, loves, and cares for us.

God's Goodness?

Throughout Scripture, we see evidence of a God who loves to provide for the needs of his people. In the Garden, God gave Adam and Eve everything they needed. They had perfect companionship, purpose, and provision. They never struggled with loss, hunger, loneliness, fear, or anxiety. They never experienced squabbling children, a night spent beside a spouse in angry silence, or a friend's insecurity. They lived in the light of God's complete, uninhibited abundance.

When the serpent came, he cast doubt on God's extravagant displays of his goodness toward his people: "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?" (Gen. 3:1). As Martin Luther pointed out, the serpent hoped Eve would doubt the kindness of God. He wanted her to wonder, "Is God keeping something good from me? Don't I deserve to eat of this tree, too?" He desired that she might believe God was stingy and selfish, keeping good gifts for himself when he could've been sharing.

We also have gratitude amnesia. I'll be the first to admit it—my attention is short and my memory is faulty. I want to trust God with my prayer requests, but once I get an answer, I move on, and a new prayer request takes the place of the old one. If I'm really honest, when I don't get an answer fast enough—or when the answer seems like one I don't like—I begin to feel antsy. I struggle under the weight of the uncertainty, the struggle, and the hardness.

In these moments, I begin to question God's supposed goodness. My eyes become blind to all of the good gifts he's provided (James 1:17), but what's more, my eyes become blind to the Provider himself (Rom. 1:25). I need the reminder that God is good and that he cares for me—I need to exchange the lie that God is selfish and greedy for the truth: God loves and gives extravagantly.

God's Goodness.

How do we know if God loves us? God anticipated our gratitude amnesia and explained through his Scripture: "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him" (1 John 4:9). Is love based on how much money we have, how many children, or how few hardships? No. It's centered on a historic truth that we can depend on with our whole lives—in an act of supreme and unparalleled generosity: God gave us Jesus.

We never need to wonder if God has ulterior motives because he gave us his best. When everything goes wrong and we're living in the shadows—when hardship obscures the good gifts God has given and we feel so, so alone—this truth comforts and assures us that God loves us. For those of us who are hurting, please hear me: I'm not saying we need to look on the bright side of our deep sorrows or act like we're not in pain. But we acknowledge the hard realities of life while cradled in the arms of our Lord, who gives us his best (Ps. 91:1–2). Our greatest assurance that God loves the unlovely comes from his provision of Jesus, his beloved Son.

God Provides Gratitude

As children, we often base the extent of our parents' love on what we feel they did or did not provide. Friends, we are children no longer. Our gratitude rests in Christ's finished work—a work that daily reassures us that we are eternally loved and cared for by our good God (1 John 4:9–10). We need only look around to discover even more we can thank God for; we need only sit quietly for a moment to realize that our lives consist of so many answered prayers.

When our hearts are weary and question God's goodness, we can hold up this enduring truth: our God loves us. His generosity remains unparalleled.