This week, many of us sat around a table with family and friends, expressing our thanks for the blessings given to us: relationships, jobs, our homes, our food. Thanksgiving can bring out the very best in us. It’s an annual reminder to reflect and be thankful for all that we have.
But what does thanksgiving look like when life is hard?
I’m talking really hard. For some of us, this season has been brutal. Some of us ache with the pain of losing someone close to us. Some have suffered miscarriages. Others are fighting hard against depression and anxiety. Others are struggling to make ends meet. Whatever your story, the pain can feel especially acute when we come across verses like these:
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
– 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
We can think, “Lord, how in the world can I give thanks in these circumstances? How can I be thankful for this pain, this anger, this bitterness, this anxiety? I love you, Lord, but my heart is hollow. I feel so hurt.”
In 1 Peter, Peter (one of Jesus’ closest friends) writes to Christians who are undergoing intense persecution for their faith. They’ve chosen to follow Jesus with their lives, and it’s been incredibly difficult, even life-threatening. Some of them are wondering if it’s all worth it.
As one of Jesus’ first followers, Peter knew this kind of pain. He was called out point blank by Jesus on more than one occasion for his lack of faith. He saw his best friend and teacher die a brutal death right before his eyes, then mourned for days, undoubtedly sinking into intense despair. Then he saw Jesus again. Risen. Alive. In person. Nail-scarred hands and all. And Peter’s life was irrevocably changed by a man he now knew was God.
Peter began to speak. He saw thousands of people turn from their sins and come to faith in Jesus. His ministry was fruitful and life-changing. Yet all along the way, Peter was beaten, repeatedly jailed, and eventually crucified for his missionary work. He knew physical pain, fear, and despair incredibly well. That’s why Peter’s words to his readers are so deeply personal:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead … In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
~1 Peter 1:3-9
Peter knew that the grief he’d experienced had a purpose. He knew, in his hardest moments, that God was refining him: growing, stretching, and changing him so he could serve better, love deeper, and bring more glory and honor to God.
Sometimes, the refining process feels like God is chipping away slowly, delicately, like a sculptor crafting a masterpiece out of marble. Other times, it feels like a forest fire blazing through the dark corners of our hearts, obliterating everything, causing intense destruction.
In the moment, it can feel like the flames are about to consume us. But because of Jesus, that feeling doesn’t end there. Because of Jesus, we can know with complete certainty that the fires we walk through make way for new growth and deep healing. We can know that there’s hope. We can trust with confidence that one day, we’ll look back and see the pain behind us. We’ll see the new place God has brought us to. And we’ll know that He was with us in the fire all along.
And for that, we can be thankful.