The hardest five months of my life.
I was enrolled in 18 credit hours, worked 8 hours/week, and volunteered 6 hours/week.
To say I was challenged academically would be an understatement. I was under more emotional stress than I could have imagined, and the pressure to study abroad, please people, and please myself was more than I could bear. This summer, I worked two jobs and took online community college classes full time. It was a struggle.
Why am I writing this? Not for pity but to ponder on the ways God used trials to teach me thankfulness- a key to having joy no matter how hard life is.
Yeah, I know that sounds like a Hallmark card, but it also doesn’t sound much different than what I learned from a book I read this past summer: One Thousands Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp.
I’m aware this book is nothing new, but the content was new to me. In short, I learned that expressing thanks to God (even for the small and seemingly insignificant things) is an act of worship. In fact, it’s one of the best ways of expressing worship because it’s an acknowledgement of God’s love; thanking God is receiving His love, and receiving His love leads to loving others.
I’m not particularly a big fan of the book The Pilgrim’s Progress, but in the allegorical tale, one of the main characters is locked in a dungeon. It seems like he will never get out. Then, he remembers he already has the key that will help him escape- Promise. The idea in One Thousand Gifts is similar. Remembering God’s promises (by thanking Him) helps us escape despair.
Of course, it doesn’t seem like a bad idea to take note of God’s gifts towards us and thank Him, but what about when bad things happen? I used to write down things I was thankful for on sticky notes and hang them up in my room. I wasn’t super strict about it, but when I would think of something, I wrote it down. It was awesome to look at a wall of sticky notes, one for each thing God had done for me.
Then, something unfortunate would happen, and it was awkward. I mean, I can’t write that on a sticky note, can I? I would just ignore it, and eventually, things became categorized into “good things” (for the sticky notes) and “bad things” (not to talk to God about because I’m not sure why He let them happen).
After reading Ann’s book, I realized it’s important to thank God for good and bad things because yes, bad things are bad, but they are constantly redeemed by God, for our good and His glory.
During my semester from hell, I learned another important lesson Ann writes about in her book: the significance of thanking God for the little things. I love watching birds, and during that difficult semester, I got to watch one build a nest right next to my window! And, you guessed it, baby birds arrived- so cute!
It was a really simple thing that gave me so much joy, and more importantly, taught me that God’s love isn’t just about Him taking the punishment for our sins (although that is maybe the greatest display of it).
God’s love also extends to little things, like making sure a bird decided to build its nest right by my window during a semester where I spent almost every day in tears for one reason or another.
Thursday was Thanksgiving. A wonderful holiday of reflecting on what we are thankful for.
Yet, I like to think of Thanksgiving as a reminder to worship God by thanking Him every single day.
For the good and the bad.
As Ann says-
“I want to see beauty. In the ugly, in the sink, in the suffering, in the daily, in all the days before I die, the moments before I sleep.”
This is what I want too.
I want to know God in every detail: getting a better grade than I expected, a hug from my best friend, an interesting conversation with a stranger, being surprised with sweets, hearing my favorite song, or even watching a bird build its nest.
I want to recognize that those little details are from God, the giver of all good things (James 1:17), and I want to receive His love in thanksliving.