If you will indulge me for a moment, I am about to be quite cliché by writing about giving thanks in the week prior to Thanksgiving. However, if you'll hang with me, I hope to give us a take on giving thanks that doesn't necessarily conjure images of Puritans.

As my children grow older, it is fun to think back with them to the funny, insightful, innocent things that they said as small children. When it comes to thanks, I am always reminded of a prayer that our little man offered when he was still parading around in underwear and a Mickey Mouse blanket-turned-cape as "Fooper Jack."

It is our bedtime habit of saying prayers together and, as is often the case during those days before they learn "prayer-ese," their conversations with God are brilliantly honest and innocent. One particular evening Jack was on a roll. He had already paraded through his gratitude for a thankfully still-small circle of every person with whom he currently had relations – mom, dad, sisters, extended family, friends, "that kid next door," and several dearly loved stuffed animals.

Next on his list was thanks for several food groups. With culinary acumen beyond his years, he made his way through each of the day's meals. When he came to dinner, he offered up this beautiful nugget: "And thank you for the vegetables... even though I don't like tomatoes very much..." As I stifled a laugh that I tried to pass off as the spiritual grunt of agreement, the candor of his honesty led to a silent prayer on my behalf that God would preserve his infantile innocence. I asked our Father to please nurture Jack's childlike faith to childlike maturity. I petitioned for a faith in my son that would grow from thanking God for under-appreciated parts of the food pyramid to a one that trusts Him enough to believe that the "all things" which work together for good are not always things we like.

Too often in my own life the things for which I give thanks are the things I perceive as blessings. Things that "went well" or moments of crisis averted. However, as I realize this, I am reminded of an admonition from the apostle Paul as he writes to the church in Ephesus, "...giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (5:20). And I don't believe that Paul is speaking idealistically or metaphorically. I believe he is calling the church to believe in the sovereign providence of their God who loves them more than they can comprehend. This trust is one that results in true gratitude in every circumstance that God is using all things to bring the fruit of His Spirit to harvest in your life.

We might call this "hard thanksgiving." How do we express thanks in hard circumstances? Not simply accepting them, but rather being thankful for them? When my prayers seem to go unanswered, how do I give thanks? When I face a challenge from which I can see no way out, how am I to be grateful? I was challenged recently be a dear friend and prayer partner to seek to present my requests to God in the form of thanks. "Father, thank you that financial difficulty serves to remind me that YOU are my provider" ... "Father, thank you that you are my identity rather than my effectiveness" ... "Thank you, Lord, that Jesus is my complete righteousness and not my works or lack thereof" ... "Father, thank you for difficult people who you are using to bring to bear the fruit of the Spirit in my life." This is what it looks like to truly give thanks. This is gratitude for tomatoes...

My son had tomatoes on his plate. This was not an oversight by his parents nor was it a punishment. He may not have been a fan of the "fruit," but his parents who loved him knew that they would be of more benefit to him than he realized. If you are in Christ, you are a child of the Almighty Creator of all things. He loves you with a love that eclipses the greatest love an earthly parent could ever muster. The things on our plate – both the enjoyable and the not-so-enjoyable – are there for a purpose. As you think during this season of the many blessings for which you are thankful, let me encourage you to take time to think on the challenges, disappointments and difficulties as well – and express your gratitude.

Publication date: November 22, 2013