Slap on a smile and focus on gratitude. If you don’t, you are not in the social style of the season. This is the season for Thanksgiving. For counting your blessings. For finding “joy in the journey.” But there is lots in this world that can make it awfully difficult to be in vogue with the “attitude of gratitude.” Sometimes, the hard stuff presses in so tightly that breathing is difficult, much less journaling about the blessings that seem to be taking a backseat to the heart-stabbing pain.

I have several friends who have children who have died in the last couple of months, so they are facing a very different holiday season than ever before. Some friends have lost parents within the last month. There are people who have moved locations in the last few weeks, so they are embracing new traditions and new normals. There are two wars being fought right now that have impacted our close community. There are financial troubles resulting in lost homes. There are family feuds causing strife within inner circles that are supposed to be safe spaces.

For some, the thought of going to a Thanksgiving Table and being asked what you are most grateful for is agonizing. Of course, you can, and likely will, find things to say, but the hurt looms larger than the blessings.

We hear the Bible verse “Rejoice always” and we want to blurt out, “NO! I don’t want to!” We see the petulant child sitting down on aisle 7 of the grocery store, pitching a fit, crying and carrying on, and we silently wish we could express a little of that.

Here’s the thing. When we rejoice in the fact that our Savior loves us and will never leave us, it doesn’t mean that we have to kick up our heels and strike up the band! Being “in Christ” means that with no effort at all, we are in the presence and love of our Savior at all times! The King of Israel, David, insightfully pens,

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence. If I go up to the heavens, you are there, if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” Psalm 139: 7-12

When David wrote this, it is thought he was in the depths of despair over those unjustly coming against him to take his very life. But as a child of God, he was able to feel the presence of God wrapped around him like a blanket.

Job was a guy in scripture who arguably lost the most, the quickest, even his health. When he had lost everything, the thing most commendable about his friends was that they came to be with him, they wept with him, and for seven days they simply sat with Job in silence. There is something about feeling sympathetic, empathetic, presence when we are in pain. That is our ever-present God!

Rejoicing in Christ doesn’t mean that we throw a party. It means that we have the amazing gift of having someone who “gets us.” When we decide to follow Him, He has already come to us, so WE GET TO JUST SIT WITH HIM! We are NEVER alone! Psalm 139 says that in all of the terrible places I manage to find myself, God never leaves me! The God of the Universe is lovingly THERE.

If you don’t feel like “giving thanks,” enjoy the lack of pressure! There will come a time we all look back and give thanks for the times when God didn’t leave us alone.