God commands us to give thanks in all circumstances – 1 Thess. 5:18 … and that means even when life sucks. Man, that’s easier said than done, especially when you’re new to pain, suffering, loss, and disappointment. When life sucks, giving thanks can “feel” utterly impossible, but it’s not. It just “feels” that way, and you can’t trust your feelings. Let me repeat what I stated in one of my recent blog posts (Life’s Not Fair!) …
NO MATTER WHAT IS HAPPENING TO US, WE STILL HAVE THE POWER TO CHOOSE HOW WE RESPOND!
When life sucks, the easy and natural response is to wallow, whine, complain, envy, worry, and get bitter. The difficult and courageous response is to pause and give thanks for the many good things in your life. You have the power to choose your response … and giving thanks is the response that God wants from us … and He has good reasons for that which I’ll explain shortly.
It’s no coincidence that God chose the Apostle Paul to be the man to write those specific words of Scripture … “Give thanks in all circumstances.” God did not choose a man who was enjoying a pain and problem free life. Far from it, God purposefully chose a man who deeply understood pain, suffering, illness, injury, loss, betrayal, loneliness, frustration, anger, anxiety, depression, and despair (far more than any of us). In 2 Corinthians chapter 11, we learn that the Apostle Paul endured multiple imprisonments, countless beatings, and was often near death. Five times at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders, he received a beating of 39 lashes. Three times he was beaten with rods. One time a mob stoned him and left him for dead. Three times he was shipwrecked at sea, and after one of those shipwrecks, he actually spent an entire night and day adrift in the sea. On his cross-country missionary journeys, he was often in danger from river crossings, from the wilderness, from robbers, from fake Christians, and even from his own people. He also mentioned that he constantly endured toil and hardship that involved many sleepless nights and was often without food and water which of course led to many days and nights of hunger and thirst. On top of all of that, he was constantly exposed to the brutal elements of cold weather on his missionary journeys and also during his imprisonments in nasty dungeons. Internally, he also battled anxiety. He mentions all of this in 2 Corinthians chapter 11. This is the man that God intentionally chose to tell all of us to “Give thanks in all circumstances.”
Paul is not the type of guy we we can look at and say, “Who do you think you are telling me to give thanks in all circumstances? You have no idea what it’s like to go through __________________.” You can fill in the blank, but no doubt … whatever it is, Paul gets it. He knows all about pain and suffering and life not being fair.
Over the past two weeks, I keep thinking about what it means to give thanks in “all circumstances.” I can’t get those two words out of my mind … “all circumstances.” At times, I’ve been angry over those two words and I’m like, “Really God? You want me to give thanks in ‘all circumstances?’ Do you not see what I’ve been going through for the past few years? This suffering that I’ve continually asked You to deliver me from, but You haven’t? Is this some kind of cruel joke that You play on us? It just doesn’t make sense! Why would You tell me to give thanks when you don’t answer my prayers and You continue to allow life to suck?”
Over the last two decades of reading and studying Scripture, I’ve noticed that there are actually quite a few things that God commands us to do that often don’t make sense to us, but I’m learning that this is where REAL FAITH comes in. When we trust and obey God even when it doesn’t make sense to us … even when it’s the complete opposite of what we naturally “feel” like doing … THAT’S REAL FAITH. So with this particular command of giving thanks in all circumstances, I’ve been daily trying to trust and obey Him, and here’s what I’ve been discovering …
When we make a practice of giving thanks, we actually experience incredible personal benefits (especially during those times when life really sucks). Not only does giving thanks glorify God, but it’s scientifically proven to personally benefit us: mentally, emotionally, and even physically. Scientific research has revealed that the practice of gratitude literally rewires our brains to give us a happier mood. In 2005, research was done by Psychologists Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California and Dr. Michael McCullough of the University of Miami … and they found that the participants in their study who kept a daily journal of things that happened throughout their week that they were thankful for ended up feeling more positive about their lives than those who didn’t continually recognize and write down what they were thankful for.
Other scientific studies have shown that routinely giving thanks also improves our sleep quality and reduces stress, anxiety, and depression. There’s also research/evidence that shows that people who routinely gives thanks have less fatigue, less inflammation, and they even reduce their risk of heart failure (even for those who are more susceptible to that particular condition). I also found it super fascinating that one of the neuro-chemicals associated with the practice of giving thanks is dopamine (the pleasure chemical). – Source Link
After reading about all of this, it began making sense to me why God commands His children to give thanks in all circumstances. He’s not trying to play a cruel joke on us. On the contrary, as our Creator/Designer, He’s known all along how much giving thanks will personally benefit us: mentally, emotionally, and physically … especially during those times when life really sucks … and He wants us to experience all of those personal benefits because He’s a good Father who always wants what’s best for His children.
So here I am, realizing (once again) that even when God’s commands don’t gel with “common sense” or with what I naturally “feel” like doing … I still need to trust and obey Him because I don’t know everything that He knows … especially when it comes to the intricate connection and function of my brain, biology, thoughts, beliefs, self-talk, and conscious choices.
Stop and consider this … with these scientific studies regarding routinely giving thanks … science has unintentionally validated that God’s Word (the Bible) is not some outdated book that has no application for modern man’s complex mental, emotional, physical, and relational “issues.” God actually knows what He’s talking about. Ha. Go figure.
Listen, I know how difficult it can be to give thanks when life really sucks. I know it’s the last thing that you naturally “feel” like doing, but it doesn’t matter. You still have the power to choose your response regardless of what is happening to you in any given moment or situation. I did it last night as I was trying to fall asleep. For dinner, I ate something I shouldn’t have eaten, and severe stomach pains had me tossing and turning as I tried to fall asleep. In that moment, I decided to take control of my thoughts and I began thanking God for all sorts of various things (even my painful health issues). Did it miraculously and instantaneously heal me of my Lyme Disease? No, but within a few minutes I actually fell asleep. There was no more tossing and turning with frustration. Giving thanks obviously triggered the relaxation response in my body which allowed me to fall asleep more quickly.
God is showing me that regardless of what sucks in my life, there are still numerous things to be thankful for. It all comes down to my perspective and what I choose to focus on. Most people in this world choose to focus on the negative, the pain, the suffering, the loss, the symptoms, the suck, or what they don’t have that others do have (envy). That has often been me. I still struggle with it, but I’m battling to be different … to be better than that.
I encourage you to do what I’ve been doing … take time daily to write down what you’re thankful for in a journal. The next day, write down more things that you’re thankful for. Do it and keep doing it until it begins to transform you.
Another way I’m giving thanks is to take time to regularly thank the people who’ve been a blessing in my life. You need to do the same. Appreciate them. Write them a letter. Shoot them a text message. Post on their Facebook wall. Or tell them in person. Don’t wait to thank them at their funeral. That’s selfish! Tell them now while there’s still time. You have no idea how much they might need that word of encouragement in that moment (and of course, thanking them will also benefit you too … you’ll get yourself a fresh hit of dopamine).
I really encourage you to join with me in making a habit of giving thanks (REGARDLESS of your situation or circumstances). I’m daily battling to do this, and it’s not easy for me, but here’s something interesting that I’m discovering … when I continually focus on my symptoms and pain … I feel worse and my healing does not progress like I need it to. Also, if I continually look at social media and focus on other people who seem to be living a better, healthier, and happier life than me … I also feel worse and my healing does not progress like I need it to. The mind/body connection in regards to healing is legit and amazing. I’m just starting to tap into this realm of healing. Yes I still believe in going to doctors and taking your meds, vitamins, supplements … but I’m beginning to realize how much my thoughts, beliefs, attitude, words, and actions can either help or hinder my healing (and pain levels). I’ve been reading a fascinating book on this subject called Mind Over Medicine by Dr. Lissa Rankin – Amazon Link Here. I’m sure I’ll write about it in the future.
I’ll wrap this up by showing you the many blessings I wrote in my personal journal the night of Thanksgiving …
- Had a good night’s sleep last night.
- Was able to enjoy a little coffee and read Scripture this morning.
- Was able to eat some normal Thanksgiving food and it didn’t cause major issues.
- Got to watch a movie with my wife.
- Got to play a game of chess with my son and had no cognitive issues.
- Got to play with the dogs.
- Got to talk to my brother and sister on the phone and wish them a Happy Thanksgiving.
- Got to talk to a few friends and family via text.
- Was able to do some stretching and go for a two-mile walk in the neighborhood.
- I have medicine, vitamins, and supplements to help me with my “issues.”
- I have warm clothes and a warm house.
- I have clean filtered water to drink.
- My rib and abdominal pain were not as bad today.
- I’ve been experiencing less headaches the last few weeks.
- My anxiety has not been flaring up this week.
- My wife and kids are healthy.
- All the bills are paid on time.
- I was able to speak at a recent youth event.
- I’m forgiven of all of my sins.
- Heaven is my home.
- I’m eternally secure in God’s hands.
Typically, that’s not the type of stuff I write in my journal. Typically (for the last few years), I list out all of my recent symptoms, problems, issues, etc. Yes, it’s important to track your symptoms when you’re battling a chronic illness, but if that’s all you’re doing with your journal … it can often leave you frustrated, discouraged, anxious, etc. So now when I write in my journal, I still track my symptoms, but I also reserve a separate page to write out what I’m thankful for on that day. I now consider this part of my recovery just as much as I do taking meds, vitamins, herbal supplements, etc. Call me cooky if you want, but I think the scientific research says I’m a wise man if I do this.
Anyway, that’s it for now. Hope this blog post in some way encourages and motivates those of you who are also in the midst of enduring some serious pain and suffering. You’re not alone. I know you may feel very weak and scared right now, but you’re a WARRIOR! It hasn’t beaten you! You’re still alive! You’re still breathing! You got out of bed this morning to face another day even with the pain and suffering … just like I did!
Keep it up.
One day at a time.
That’s how we roll!
Battling with you,
Jason T. George is not a medical professional. The content of BattlingLyme.com is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read, seen, or heard from Jason T. George.