I sat in bed, staring at the cell phone still in my hand, my mind adjusting to what my husband had said. The words I spoke out loud continued to spin in my mind as I tried to make sense of it all.
What just happened?
I couldn’t believe it. Reality slammed into me as those words tumbled over each other. My father-in-law had died. Only a couple months earlier, we gathered as a family for a different loss. My husband’s youngest brother suffered a devastating stroke, leaving him on the edge of life and death for several months until death won out. A Marine veteran of 34 years survived the horror of not one but two tours of duty, escaping death’s grip countless times, only to succumb to a stroke.
This year has been hard for our family (here I set the “understatement of the century” comment). Not only did we say goodbye to my husband’s dad and brother, but I also said goodbye to my maternal grandmother, two cousins, and, as if that wasn’t enough, a job that moved our family from Illinois to Massachusetts two years ago.
And under all that? Pandemic. Unrest. Distrust. You know that part of the story.
This year has been one of the most faith-stretching, anxiety-producing, what-the-heck years I’ve experienced in a long time.
And I know we’re not alone. We aren’t the only ones feeling sucker-punched these days. Unexpected sickness, COVID restrictions, work-from-home and school adjustments, job loss, financial concerns . . . the list of worries goes on, leaving us to ask one single question: How did we get here?
Perhaps for you, it’s also a year when you cry like the prophet Habakkuk, in the Old Testament, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! Violence is everywhere! I cry, but you do not come to save…Wherever I look, I see destruction and violence. I am surrounded by people who love to argue and fight” (Habakkuk 1:2-3).
Habakkuk, a prophet, saw a dying world, and it broke his heart. What he saw troubled him, and he wanted answers.
Do you as well? I long for answers. My journal is filled with question after question asking God what he was doing, why he allowed such loss and heartache into our lives.
I know life holds trouble. Jesus tells us in John 16:33. He warns his disciples that in this world, we will have trouble. But there’s good news, Jesus continues. He overcame the world with its loss and sorrow and unexpected hardships.
I also know this reality on a profoundly personal level. In 2005, my family lost our home in a fire. The fire not only destroyed all we owned but, most tragically, it snatched away the life of my youngest daughter and, eventually, my first marriage—destruction upon destruction.
For years I wrestled with God: what he was doing, why he allowed such unexpected heartache. I poured out my grief in lament, telling God all of it. My anger. My fear. My sorrow. My longings.
I turned to Scripture. I determined if the Bible contained God’s words and was one way to learn more about him, then I was going to plumb its depths for every ounce of truth, wisdom, and hope I could find.
While life has disappointed, God has not. He teaches me about his sovereignty and faithfulness. He reveals the magnitude of his love and the truth of goodness. Through the Psalms, I learn the gift of gratitude. Like David, I set my sorrow before God and allow his Spirit to shift my gaze away from the circumstances and onto my Savior.
“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer, and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1b-2a).
As I sit with these truths as they sink into my soul, what wells up often surprises me.
A heart of thanksgiving.
Not because of what was happening—but despite it. I say with the prophet Jeremiah, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore, I will wait for him” (Lamentations 3:22-24).
If God is my portion—if he is my inheritance and provides all that I need, all that we need, how is gratefulness not our response?
We can be grateful because God is faithful.
We can be grateful because God is compassionate.
We can be grateful because God is patient.
We can be grateful because God is kind.
We cling to these truths even when tears stream down our cheeks.
So, what are some practical ways we can cultivate this heart of gratitude? Because let’s be honest—to turn from the circumstances that strike at us to the One who saves us takes intentionality and determination.
First, we read Scripture and take God at his word.
“For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe, even if someone told you about it” (Habakkuk 1:5).
Second, we trust him in all things because he is trustworthy.
“For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does” (Psalm 33:4).
Next, we lament when we need to lament, we cry when we need to cry, and we tell him all about it through prayer.
“My eyes are dim with grief. I call to you, Lord, every day; I spread out my hands to you” (Psalm 88:9).
Then, we rest in his sovereignty because he is good, and his ways are good even if we can’t see them that way.
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).
And we wait and watch, like Habakkuk.
“I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guard post. There I will wait to see what the Lord says and how he will answer my complaint” (Habakkuk 2:1).
After that, we start over, return to Scripture, and remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness to the end.
“For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord” (Psalm 117:2).
“I have heard all about you, Lord. I am filled with awe by your amazing works. In this time of our deep need, help us again as you did in years gone by” (Habakkuk 3:2).
And one day, even though you may feel sucker-punched by the expected, you can join voices with Habakkuk and me and declare this together.
“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty; yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights” (Habakkuk 4:17-19, NLT).