When You Don’t Feel Thankful at Thanksgiving

Dena YoheBy Dena Yohe7 Minutes

Thanksgiving is coming, the time of year most people turn their thoughts toward happy celebrations, family traditions, and for what they’re grateful. However, some people will have a tough time being thankful. I’m thinking about parents of troubled teens or adults. I was one of them for a long time.

The difficult situation we find ourselves in isn’t all our fault. Our children’s destructive choices and struggles have sapped us of our ability to be grateful. We’re already depressed most days and now we feel worse. We wish we could forget the holiday altogether.

The reasons for our melancholy are many. Our child is in jail or prison. They’ve wrecked their lives with drugs or alcohol. An eating disorder plagues them or they can’t stop cutting themselves. They have a mental illness and often refuse treatment. Often suicidal, they’ve been in a psych ward repeatedly. Confused about their gender identity. Life is hard. We’ve received countless crisis calls. They’re miserable and we are too. Our gratitude tank is on empty.

Perhaps you wish you could avoid Thanksgiving like I did, but for different reasons. How do we mouth words of gratefulness without being hypocritical? Do we have to pretend?

What Can You Do?

Is it possible not to be miserable this time of year or sink into a pity party no one wants to come to? When my daughter wasn’t doing well, I didn’t know how I would get through this holiday. What could I do? If you and I met for a cup of coffee or tea, I would share what I have learned since then:

  • Give yourself permission to be where you are emotionally, to feel your feelings. You don’t have to pretend to be happy if you’re not. Be real. Be honest, but you’re not obligated to give an explanation if someone asks about your subdued mood. It’s okay. You could simply say, “I’m going through a difficult time, and I’d rather not discuss it.” Then turn the conversation around by asking a question about them, “How have you been lately? What are your holiday plans?” Everyone likes to talk about themselves.
  • Please don’t give in to your desire to isolate. Depression and sadness can takeover, pushing you into a shell. That’s when you need to make yourself reach out to friends and family even more. They don’t know how much you need them unless you tell them. Limit the amount of time you enter uncomfortable situations but try to do a little. You’ll be glad you did. Give yourself the freedom to set a healthy boundary and excuse yourself when you need to without guilt.
  • Limit the amount of time you spend on social media. Quit checking on your loved one. Consider taking a break over the holidays. Seeing other families’ joyfulness tends to intensify your pain. Why not eliminate exposing yourself to those hurtful scenes? There are plenty of other positive activities you could engage in with the time you save.
  • Determine to be grateful but start small. Giving thanks is what made the difference for Joni Eareckson Tada when she didn’t want to live after becoming a quadriplegic at seventeen. When my daughter was on the streets and I didn’t know if she would survive, I wanted to die to end my suffering. Harsh realities can overwhelm us. You may be despondent today like Joni and I were.

Last week I saw a beautiful rainbow, the whole arc of brilliant colors. Yesterday I enjoyed an early morning walk. Today I heard a bird singing outside my window. And I can always be thankful for pumpkin pie or chocolate. What little thing could you say thank you for? Not sure? Ask God. He’ll show you. You might want to start a gratitude list in a journal. Looking at your entries on bad days is a great way to remind yourself of God’s goodness.

Be Thankful for What You Can

Thanksgiving Day can be rough, but it doesn’t have to be terrible. Be thankful for what you can, asking God for help. He will uplift you with each step you take. I discovered if I started small, giving thanks as I was able, then expressing gratitude became easier.

Connecting with God by spending time in His Word, the Bible, will always help you find something to be thankful for.

Psalm 145 (NIV) gives many reasons for gratitude:

Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom (v. 3).

I will meditate on your wonderful works… (v. 5b)

…your abundant goodness and… righteousness (v. 7).

The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love (v. 8).

The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made (v. 9).

The LORD is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does (v. 13b.)

The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth (v. 18). 

As I slowly gave thanks more and more, something shifted in my soul. The heaviness began to lift. Darkness gave way to glimmers of light. My situation didn’t change, but I began to change.

I made a surprising discovery: gratitude was the key to my inner healing.

Could it be the key to yours?

What can you be thankful for today?