How to Give Thanks for the Bad Things in Your Life

The Gratitude Transaction

Apostle Paul said, in Thessalonians 5:18 “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

And sometimes I have a real problem with this verse.

In EVERYTHING give thanks…really? Everything? This might not be a problem except for one tiny little detail. That is, “thank you” is a transactional process in which thanks are given only after one receives something of value.

If you want me to give thanks to you, you must first give something of value to me. We must make a transaction.  

For example:

You hold the door open for me, I say “thank you” to you.

We made a transaction.

You say to me that my gray hair makes me look distinguished, I say “thank you” to you. We made a transaction (one in which I came out way ahead, by the way.)

You say to me that my kids are beautiful, I say “thank you” to you…and am secretly glad that you didn’t see them punching and biting and screaming and clawing five minutes ago.

This is how giving thanks, works.

This is why when Apostle Paul tells me, “In EVERYTHING give thanks,” I get a little confused.

What Paul probably means is for us to give thanks when appropriate. He must be encouraging us to mind our manners and be sure to say “thanks” to those that bless us in some way.

Yes, that must be it.

When Bad Things Happen

And surely…surely when he says “in EVERYTHING give thanks” he doesn’t mean for us to give thanks for the bad things that happen in our lives.

That wouldn’t make any sense at all.

Take my life for example.

Two and a half years ago epileptic seizures invaded my son’s innocent, little brain and have accosted him ever since. 

Surely I’m not expected to give thanks for this.

Quite the contrary, I can make the argument that my son’s sickness has put me squarely on the GIVING end of the transactional relationship. If there is any giving of thanks, it should be given to me for carrying this burden.

Should I give thanks for his medical expenses that piled up over the past two years? This doesn’t look like a transaction from which I benefitted.

So why should I say thanks?

Should I give thanks for the physical toll that my son’s sickness has taken on me? Constant surveillance, midnight emergency room visits, dropping everything to go pick him up at school after a seizure has ended his day?

How have I benefited from this transaction?  

Why should give thanks for this?

What about the exorbitant emotional cost of a parent having to helplessly watch his child’s mind and body be shackled right in the middle of playing ball or having a conversation with family or just being sweet little Scotty.

How have I benefitted from this transaction? Surely Paul doesn’t mean that I should give thanks for this.    


So really, in regards to my son and his health, I’ve nothing to be thankful for. Come to think of it, shouldn’t I be owed something? Quite a lot, in fact.

Unless…Unless Apostle Paul really did mean, “in EVERYTHING give thanks.”

Even in things that seem to take from us.

A Gratitude Perspective

To do this we would need to turn the idea of positive and negative transactions on its ear. Could it be that he is encouraging us to take all of the issues that come our way, positive and negative and view them all as a blessing from God?

Maybe the apostle is challenging me in such a way that, instead of looking at all of the money that my son’s medical expenses have cost me, could I possibly look at the fact that he’s still alive to hug me and give me the heart sign every day before getting on the school bus?

In this regard, I’ve got a lot to be thankful for.  

Instead of looking at the physical exertion and the sleepless nights surveilling him, perhaps I should look at times that I get to relax at the dinner table, join his hand, and listen to his sweet little voice say grace over our meal like only he can.

Judging from this angle, I’ve got a lot to be thankful for.

Instead of looking at the heart-stopping stopping moments, the tears, and the anxiety, quite possibly I should I look at the way that his quirky humor makes me laugh every single day, even in the middle of his infirmity.

When viewed from the gratitude perspective, I’ve got a lot to be thankful for.

I’m not sure if this is how Paul meant for me to interpret “In everything give thanks”, but it sure helps me see the wisdom in another of his notable verses. 

“And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28 )

Choosing Gratitude

In the end, we have no guarantee of tomorrow.

Life is a vapor.

And sometimes no matter how just we might be the rain finds us anyway.

But one thing firmly in our control is the hue with which we paint circumstances that come our way.

So if gratitude has nothing to do with the amount we have and everything to do with the heart we have, let’s make our grateful hearts a little bigger today. 


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