Finding gratitude when you’re feeling stuck

Deep in the New Hampshire mountains lie the Polar Caves, a hundred-year-old attraction that takes visitors through granite caves formed long ago. As a child, I always marveled at the way my family wound through these rocks, creating deep crevasses and narrow passages through the White Mountains. Could The Lemon Squeeze squeeze my slim 10-year-old body to the other side? Would my bones feel the pressure of pushing through The Orange Crush, a nearly impassable path between huge boulders?

Navigating rock formations is fun on vacation, but navigating your way through the wreckage of life’s suffering can feel like a different experience altogether. Under the pressure of family conflicts or job insecurity, chronic illness or serious loss, we are intimidated, exhausted and sad.

Especially as the holidays approach, many of us yearn for the spacious places God has promised to His loved ones (2 Sam. 22:20; Job 36:16; Ps. 18:19). Thanksgiving can feel almost impossible when we’re feeling hemmed in by disappointment, wedged between pain and more pain. Since the calendar calls for gratitude, how can we express gratitude when life does more than pinch when heartache befalls us?

As those around you prepare to rejoice, you may feel that the path ahead is littered with boulder after boulder. Nonetheless, Scripture assures you that you can rejoice here as well. You can rest in your own narrow space this Thanksgiving.

Pressed on each side

You may feel that the trail ahead is littered with boulder after boulder. Nonetheless, Scripture assures you that you can rejoice here as well.

From Macedonia, the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth: “We are hard pressed on every side” (2 Corinthians 4:8, NIV). The Corinthian church had long supported Paul’s ministry and knew his difficulties. They knew his vulnerability as a minister of Christ in a kingdom bowed to the gospel. They knew his previous imprisonments and the threats that always awaited him. Paul told his loyal friends the truth – life was tough, even tougher than tough.

Given what he knew about God’s faithfulness, Paul knew it was still okay to say it when life was difficult.

When you stand between your rock and your hard place, rest assured that you too can tell the truth about your pain. This Thanksgiving, you don’t need to ignore sorrow, sadness, or unfulfilled desires and just shoulder them. Instead, gratitude always begins with an open and sincere acknowledgment of the truth. Like Paul, it’s okay to share what’s bothering you.

Bruised, not bruised

When our youngest child was born, each of her older siblings wanted to hold her. The most passed around baby in our family, she surfed from arm to arm. One of my main duties in those early days was teaching her older siblings how to hold a baby properly. “Hold her,” I said, “but don’t crush her!”

Gratitude always begins with an open and sincere acknowledgment of the truth.

One of the biggest differences between feeling constrained by our worries and feeling overwhelmed by them is our own understanding of space. Paul clarified what the suffering looked like with Jesus beside you – there was still room for hope and worship. As if standing between rocks in a cave, as if resting in the arms of a sibling, “we are hard pressed on all sides, but not crushed‘ he wrote (2 Corinthians 4:8).

Whatever plagues you on all sides this Thanksgiving, where might you discover the space that Jesus’ presence offers for your survival? As his love cushions your heart, you can navigate difficult places saved from being completely crushed. Just as God drew Moses into the crevice to protect him when his glory passed, God offers you relief from pressure – not by escaping, but by snuggling inside, knowing that life’s trials will meet you in God Custody will not be completely destroyed.

Sing here too

Charles Spurgeon was quoted as saying, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” At first glance it’s a beautiful metaphor, but upon reflection…Ouch! If we’re being honest, we don’t want to swim in the stormy waves or be slammed against anything. All rocks must be bad, we argue. All pain without purpose. What looks like a stone can only ever hurt like a stone. But we are wrong.

God offers you deliverance from the bind – not by escaping, but by snuggling in, knowing that life’s trials will not completely destroy you in God’s care.

As much as we want to avoid discomfort, heartache and worry, life’s path is rocky, full of obstacles that can scare or overwhelm us. The rock and hard place we stand between is real, and their pain is great.

But just as real and powerful is the rock that stands by our side in all our tough places. The One, says Paul, whose death we carry with us in our bodies, “that the life of Jesus also might be revealed” (2 Corinthians 4:10).

Not all stones are made equal. Among the painful, one Almighty Stone surpasses them all.

On this side of glory, each of us must navigate the scree of life. Sometimes the aisles between trials seem so narrow that we can’t imagine how we could slip through to the other side. And on the holidays, when others around us are lightly celebrating, we can find our gratitude in short supply.

Even then, and especially then, may we discover among the rocks a rock that never fails. May the sufferings that enclose us press us closer against the rampart and refuge of our souls. Here too may we learn to sing his goodness.