Have you lost someone you love to death recently? If not, have you had to completely let go of a job, a relationship, or a dream?
You may be thinking this feels awfully morbid and how can I possibly be thankful in the face of death? It’s a fair question.
While I’m not a grief counselor, I have experienced my share of death. My father passed away due to an accidental fall. I have multiple friends who have suddenly passed away through accidents, illness, COVID, and for other reasons. I have several friends who’ve been given the death sentence of cancer at far too young an age.
G.K. Chesterton observed the following,
“Until we realize that things might not be, we cannot realize that things are. Until we see that darkness, we cannot admire the light as a single and created thing. As soon as we have seen that darkness, all light is lightening, sudden, blinding, and divine. . . . It is one of the million wild jests of truth that we know nothing until we know nothing.”
Death is natural, but not God’s design
We all know that death is a given, but we grieve anyway because God designed us for life. If Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned there would be no death. We rightly feel loss,
And when we feel loss, we can discover purpose and meaning.
In March of 2019, my father fell to his death. Many emotions overwhelmed me at the time and it’s still a mixture of feelings, but I reflected at the time upon at least a dozen ways my father inspired me to become a better man. (see Day 8 for some of those thoughts) I never felt thankful that he passed away, except that he was spared the dementia I saw approaching. But I am grateful for the courage his death gave me to pursue meaning in my life.
A quick perusal of the internet finds numerous reflections of people who found gratitude in the wake of death. For example, Kelly Buckley, in her book Gratitude in Grief, describes her recovery from the accidental death of her son. She made the conscious choice to daily look for one small thing to be grateful for. Slowly she recovered.
Additionally, numerous researchers share not only the theory of how gratitude helps in grief recovery, but also personal stories. Nathan Greene rediscovered the preciousness of life when his mother passed away. Michelle Courtney Berry reflected on her miscarriage and concluded, “Yes, I’m going to die, so why not live each day with gratitude, just in case it’s my last?”
So how do we move from grief to gratitude?
Slowly. Deliberately. Together.
Four ways to move from death to gratitude
There are at least four ways to move from death to gratefulness.
#1: Let the tears flow
Whether the loss of a job or dream or the death of a close friend or family member, let the emotions flow. They will come at unexpected times. Don’t bottle up your emotions. Instead, put them in a physical bottle. Literally. That’s what God does:
You keep track of all my sorrows.Psalm 56:8 NLT
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.
Our culture tends to move on from grief too quickly. Give yourself permission to experience the pain and the loss, even when they are happy tears.
My former executive assistant recently took a new job. The opportunity was too good for her to pass up. I sent her with my blessing and encouragement. But I’m still missing her. I’m realizing as I write that I haven’t grieved and I’ve bottled these feelings. Guess who needs to fill his bottle of tears tonight?
Once the emotions subside start to find ways to turn your tears into thanksgiving.
#2: Collect broken pieces
Jesus came to raise the dead, bind the brokenhearted, and to give a crown of beauty instead of ashes (Isaiah 61:1-3). That all sounds good except when we’re in the middle of a pile of shattered dreams and broken lives.
I remember seeking to counsel friends after their pastor unexpectedly had to resign due to immoral conduct. I hurt for the pastor and the congregation so I tried to encourage them that God can build beauty from ashes.
I might as well have dropped a pile of bricks on my friend’s foot. He looked at me as if I were crazy, insensitive, and completely out of touch. He was right.
God does make beautiful things out of the broken pieces of our lives, but that truth rarely encourages a broken piece of pottery. What the broken need is to be picked up, held, and cherished. The day will come when God will put them back together better than before.
ACTION: In the meantime, write down those broken pieces and ask God to keep them. Sometimes our lives are like seeds that must die before new life can emerge.
#3: Talk to others about death
Scripture reminds us repeatedly that we are not alone. Joshua 1:9 reminds us that the Lord is with you wherever you go. The Psalmist proclaims, “The Lord is close to all whose hearts are crushed by pain, and he is always ready to restore the repentant one.” (Psalm 34:18 TPT)
God is with us. Emmanuel. And most often he reminds us of his presence through other people. Isolation may feel like the only answer, but as we trust ourselves to safe people we can begin to remember life before the loss. Our friends and family assure us that our dreams and relationships were real.
Of course, life will never be the same. But we can remember thankfully the good things that happened before the loss. And move into a new future.
#4: Create a gratitude jar
In addition to a journal, I encourage you to place a jar in a prominent place in your home. Keep a pile of blank note cards. At least once a day, stop to write down a thankful thought about the person or thing you lost. Periodically, take the jar down and read what you’ve written. As you fill the jar you will find far more reasons to give thanks than you have to hold on to anger, loss, and emptiness.
This episode has been one big challenge. Choose one of my four recommendations and start doing it today. If you’re still in a place of tears, that’s okay. Perhaps you need to pick up the pieces or talk to someone. Maybe it’s time to create a gratitude jar.
Father, I thank you for mourning with me. The loss I feel is painful, but I thank you that you know that feeling. You saw your son stripped and crucified. While you could’ve stopped it, you didn’t because you had a greater plan to show your love to me and the world. Thank you. I pray you would teach me to turn my tears into thanksgiving. In Jesus’ name, Amen.