Sunday

Giving Thanks for Life, Even When It Stinks

Have you ever experienced what St. John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul?” Or what the lead character, Pilgrim, in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress identified as “the slough of despond”? Regardless of what you call it, most of us have reached a point when we feel as though everything good has been stripped away, and there’s no reason to go on. It’s real, it’s deep, and it’s incredibly dark. 

The prophet Jeremiah experienced such a period of misery. He was so consumed with grief he wished he had never been born. Listen to his words: “Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought my father the news, who made him very glad, saying, "A child is born to you-- a son!" (Jer. 20:14-15). 

Then he cried, “Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?” (Jer. 20:18). In the midst of the Babylonian captivity and exile, with his beloved Jerusalem looted and burning behind him and the pagan skyline of Egypt before him, he plunged into deep despair. 

Twenty-five chapters later, Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe, experienced a similar grief. “Woe to me!” he cried. “The LORD has added sorrow to my pain; I am worn out with groaning and find no rest” (Jer. 45:3). If you’ve been where Jeremiah and Baruch were, you know that when you’re in this dark place, it’s hard to see any good in life. You can’t imagine you’ll ever laugh again, let alone feel any emotion other than the aching void where your heart used to beat. 

Years ago I was in a black hole like Jeremiah and Baruch. I had high expectations for my life, and none of them seemed to be coming true. Surely God had a better plan for me than the one that was unfolding before my teary eyes. I’d served him faithfully, loved him deeply, and committed my family and my future into his hands. 


One sad morning, because I’d developed the discipline of Bible reading and prayer, autopilot dragged me out of bed and to my quiet time chair. I’d learned to begin my time with praise and thanksgiving, but that morning, I was struggling to find anything praiseworthy for which to thank God. All I could come up with was, “Well, I’m still alive, although I’m not sure it’s a blessing right now.” That was it. From my grieving perspective, it was all I could come up with to be thankful for - my miserable, sorrowful life. 

God, through the prophet, Jeremiah, spoke to me: “’Should you then seek great things for yourself? Seek them not. . . .’ declares the LORD, ‘but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life’” (Jer. 45:5). 

I must confess, I expected a life free of sorrow, pain, sickness, and death. I wanted money in my bank account, a host of friends, and a joy-filled marriage. The only tears I wanted to shed were tears of joy. 

But that’s not realistic. 

“In this world,” Jesus said, “you will have tribulation.” Because we live in a sin-sick world, life is going to be hard. And some days, all we’ll have to be thankful for is our lives. 

This week I’m mourning the loss of a dear friend, praying outside an abortion clinic where babies are scheduled to die, and sending a meal to a neighbor with cancer. 

As I mourn, pray, and cook, I realize that life to these people isn’t something to be minimized or ungrateful for. It's a gift. A precious, holy gift that others barely cling to and will never take for granted.  “. . . wherever you go I will let you escape with your life,” God said through Jeremiah to Baruch, and he says it to us, too. 

If you’ve been given the gift of life, even if it’s the only gift you feel you have to thank God for, thank him anyway. Thank him in faith. Thank him because while there is breath, there is hope. 

Thank you, Father, for the precious gift of life. Many around us are fighting for that which we hold so lightly. Teach us to value every day we’ve been given and never take them for granted. Remind us that we’re still alive because you have a plan and a purpose for us. Thank you for your grace and mercy. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.



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