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How to be Thankful When You Don’t Feel Like It

  • Cliff Young Contributing Writer
  • Published Nov 25, 2013
How to be Thankful When You Don’t Feel Like It

As we approach another Thanksgiving Day, I’m reminded of some of the Thanksgiving-related articles I’ve written over the years for and was having a difficult time trying to discover a “new perspective” on what I naively thought was one of the only politically undisturbed celebrations we still had.

Most of us probably remember making paper turkeys and pilgrim hats in grade school to commemorate the three-day feast when the Native Americans and Pilgrims joined together in the fall of 1621. The colonies continued to celebrate a day of Thanksgiving concurrently until President George Washington proclaimed November 26th as the national day of public thanksgiving and prayer in 1789.  

President Lincoln issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation declaring the last Thursday in November as the day of “thanksgiving and praise” which stood seventy-six years until retailers complained to the President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to move Thanksgiving up a week in order to give shoppers an extra week of Christmas shopping after Thanksgiving.

For the next couple of years, states celebrated on different days until Congress finally passed a law in 1941 declaring Thanksgiving would officially take place on the fourth Thursday of November.

As I think about the progression of Thanksgiving in our country, I wonder how many of us have had our own personal evolution. In other words, “What has thanksgiving become to you?” Is it only something you do when you’re supposed to, reminded of or “feel like"? Does it take place at one meal a year or has it become a way of life?

In this season of thankfulness (or any season for that matter), have you ever wanted to not be thankful? Was there a time you questioned God and His ways? Has your heart ever been so broken you cried out to God for an answer “why” before you would even consider giving “thanks”?

The reason I ask is thatI don’t feel like being thankful right now.

Before you delete this article or give up your Singles alerts, I ask you to hear me out.

At the time of this writing, my older brother, Steve, is in a battle for his life with an aggressive cancer.  In order for him to maintain the greatest level of comfort at this point, the doctors, along with him and his spouse, have decided not to treat it anymore. This will quite likely be his last Thanksgiving.

My heart breaks for his wife, four children and my mother. How do I help to make sense of this to my eleven year old nephew? How do I comfort a family during this (supposedly) festive time of year? What words can I say to ease the heart of my mother who is about to lose her oldest son? How do I encourage others (and myself) to continue to believe when it seems as if all of my answers are gone and prayers go unanswered? Why do I have to go through this all alone?

Even though Congress enacted a law to celebrate a day of “thanksgiving” for a specific twenty-four hour period, I am having difficulty with the thought of it.

I have studied the Bible and memorized Scripture enough to hear those verses reverberate in my head about “God not giving us more than we can handle,” “His ways are not our ways,” “He will comfort you in times of trouble”….etcetera, etcetera.

Those kinds of passages all seem good and fine when you’re on the giving end rattling them off to others in times of need, but when you’re the recipient (even if in your own head), it just doesn’t seem sufficient.

Over the three months of tears and prayer since learning of my brother’s diagnosis, our family and I have been encouraged, prayed for and supported by a number of close friends. It is through these relationships have I begun to recognize and understand how thankfulness can be grasped despite the feelings and circumstances we experience.  

It may be the “new perspective” I was in search of.

Longtime relationships, whether personal, romantic or ones with the Lord, are not just based upon feelings, but rather built over many years of walking together in a variety of situations.

Many friendships falter when each gets angry at the other, marriages fail because one or both partners don’t “feel” the same for one another and relationships with God fall away because it was based on emotion alone.

My brother and I probably didn’t “like” each other at times as brothers do, but we love one another and are committed to our relationship. We would do anything for each other. I could honestly say without hesitation, if I could trade places with him right now, I would.

I am coming to grips I may never receive the answers in this lifetime to “Why now? Why so soon? Why when his children need him so much?” and many others, but this can’t be a reason to run from God nor an excuse to not be thankful for the blessings I have received.  

Through the anger, frustration, and tears, I am slowly finding peace and resolve.

I am thankful for enough maturity and wisdom to “get over myself” (most of the time) to appreciate the more important things in life.

I am thankful for the amazing relationships God has allowed me to have with His people.

I have come to find thankfulness in my singleness which has given me the opportunity to visit and spend more time with my brother and his family over the years, even though I haven’t always been the most appreciative of my non-married status or the time I felt I “had” to spend with them.

I am thankful for the relationship I have built with my nephews and niece (and extended nephews and nieces) which could have only happened as a result of my singleness.

I am thankful for the relationship my brother and I built and the memories we have made, even though I feel they are being cut short.

I am thankful for the lessons about life, sports and relationships he taught me amidst the disagreements.

I am thankful for him and his wife for raising a godly family whom they should and are very proud of.  

I am eternally grateful for my brother’s relentless prodding of me to go to church and his supportiveness of my endeavors and writings.  

I love you Steve and will always miss you.

What will you be thankful for this coming twenty-four hours….and beyond?

Author’s note: Stephen Young went to be with Jesus on Friday, November 22nd 2013.

Cliff Young is a contributing writer to Sandlot Stories (ARose Books), as well as the monthly column, "He Said-She Said," in's Singles Channel. An architect and former youth worker, he now works with Christian musicians and consults for a number of Christian ministries. Got feedback? Send your comments and questions to Find him on facebook and twitter.

Publication date: November 26, 2013