When You Feel Thankless on Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving, and if I had to guess, I’d say your life looks different now than it did last year at this time. Traditions highlight COVID’s disruptions. You probably have a few empty chairs at your table today. Perhaps you’re also navigating relational, financial or health challenges that weren’t there last year.

This Thanksgiving, if life feels hard and you don’t exactly have a cornucopia of joy and gratitude swelling in your heart, that’s quite alright. COVID has wrecked our social life, mental health, family dynamics, routines, jobs and relationships – and if you’re feeling a bit bitter about it all, that is perfectly natural. After 9 months of life-altering changes, it’s normal to feel more resentful than grateful. The question is, as we sit here on Thanksgiving in the middle of a pandemic, what do we do with all this bitterness and angst building up inside? How can we give thanks when we don’t feel thankful?

The Bible actually has a pretty clear answer: lament. Lament and thanksgiving are often connected in the Bible; just take a look at the Psalms (e.g., Psalms 13, 22, 71, 77, 79, 86, 130, 138, etc.). Many laments in the Bible express deep pain, loss and fear prior to praising and thanking God for his faithfulness and love. Grief and gratitude are not mutually exclusive.

We naturally create room for thankfulness when we offload our anguish to God. When lament leaves our lips, thanksgiving has room to infill our hearts, creating a continual cycle that always looks to God. Sure, it’s easy to be thankful when life is going well, but the most powerful gratitude is when we notice the good ways of God among the hard things of life.

If lamenting on Thanksgiving feels odd, or if you’re afraid God might not want to hear your complaints on a day set aside for gratitude, I invite you to give it a try. It might just do wonders for your soul. There are several different models of lament in the Bible ranging from simple to complex, but the primary structure includes Complaint, Petition and Thanks/Praise. You can pray a Biblical lament to God or craft your own lament using a Psalm as a blueprint and personalize it to fit your circumstances.

One of my favorite examples of lament in the Bible is Lamentations 3. In it, Jeremiah (the likely author of the book), does the most beautiful 180-degree turn, going from steeping in his pain to remembering and praising the steadfast love of God.

17 My soul is bereft of peace;
    I have forgotten what happiness is;

18 so I say, “My endurance has perished;
   so has my hope from the Lord.”

19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
    the wormwood and the gall!

20 My soul continually remembers it
    and is bowed down within me.

21 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;

23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him.

26 It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.

If you find yourself thankless this Thanksgiving, that is quite alright, He fully understands and wants to talk with you about it. May we look to God’s own Word to lead us through this day as we embrace the paradoxical beauty of lament-birthed gratitude.

Becky Young is a counselor and spiritual director at Faith where she has been a member for five years. She also serves with Faith’s Photography Team and Writing Team.

Becky enjoys writing about soul care and cultivating a deeper life with God. 
Becky was born and raised in Colorado and enjoys spending time with her husband, gardening and exploring God’s creation.