Last year, as we awaited our son’s birth and death, I refused to be thankful. I was able to recognize the good things God had given us in the storm, but I did not let my acknowledgment lead to appreciation.
There were several reasons for my refusal.
As a new father, gratitude felt like invalidation, as though it took worth away from my son. To be thankful for other things seemed to trivialize Eli’s life. It also felt like a consolation, as if being grateful communicated that I was okay with his death. There was also the immeasurable pain and confusion. How can I be thankful for anything as my firstborn is being ripped away?
Finally, giving thanks felt like a forced replacement. It seemed like the “Christian way” is to substitute our grief for gratitude. Our culture’s theology of positivity has created a false dichotomy between sorrow and faith. We feel as though we must face trials with smiles as we count our blessings, choosing optimism over honesty.
But gratitude does not have to replace grief. They can coexist.
In this season of celebration, you might feel the pressure to exchange your agony for appreciation. But this black-and-white perspective is not what we see in the Scriptures. There, we find a tension that holds gratitude and grief together. The Psalms pour out both pain and praise. Prayers of the prophets bring forth both complaint and confidence. Our Savior was acquainted with both grief and gladness.
So yes, I will be grateful. For my beautiful son. For my valiant wife. For our incredible family and friends. For our home. For the grace of Christ. For the resurrection coming. These are all benevolent gifts from our generous God.
And yes, I will also continue grieving. Because of my son’s death. Because of my wife’s pain. Because our home still echoes with emptiness. Because sin and death still steal. Because we wander in the present, tormented by the past and terrified of the future.
I will do both. I can thank God for his gracious generosity while I still wrestle with him for his confounding sovereignty.
Gratitude is a choice, but not an exchange.