“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
The funeral home sent employees to prepare my wife’s body to transport her to the funeral home. And all the while, I’m in shock. Eventually, they had prepared her and gave me the opportunity to spend a few minutes with my wife’s lifeless body. Excruciating.
I fell on the gurney that held and cradled her, and I kissed her on the forehead and on the cheek repeatedly through my tears. Spontaneously, I began to cry out to God. And something happened, and I can’t fully explain it.
Eventually, I began to thank God. I couldn’t help it. I started thanking God for thirty-five-and-a-half years with Kim. I thanked God for the children with whom he blessed us through her body. Gifts of our love. Again, I don’t fully understand how it happened. First of all, I wasn’t even able to put words or sentences together easily. I couldn’t even form coherent thoughts.
I realize now, it was a good and fitting response. Kim was a gift of grace in my life. I didn’t deserve her, but God blessed my life by bringing her to me. I was privileged to share life with her. I received the gift of children through her. I should be grateful.
And then I realized it’s a biblical choice. It’s God’s will for me. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to “…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” To acknowledge God’s goodness helps to orient yourself to truth, regardless of your feelings.
Over the months, I remember listening to music and singing along through tears. One example, “Counting Every Blessing” by Rend Collective, has been a favorite. Here’s an excerpt from this song that was helpful in times when I needed to be recalibrated and centered to gratitude:
“I am counting every blessing, counting every blessing, letting go and trusting when I cannot see…Surely every season you are good to me…Letting go and trusting when I cannot see, I am counting every blessing, I’m counting every blessing. Surely every season you are good to me…” Rend Collective, “Counting Every Blessing”
This early lesson would be employed repeatedly. Gratitude is an appropriate antidote to grief. It’s a great discipline to employ as a counterattack every time a wave of grief rises and falls on the shores of my emotions.
One morning, I checked in with my children who had insisted on updates every day in the weeks following Kim’s death. My loss was still very fresh after only a few weeks. I wrote to them that I had an incredible insight that morning. Alone in my house, I was faced with Kim’s memory in every room, closet, and shelf. I told them my house shouts, “Look what you’ve lost.”
My house also shouts, “Look what you had!” Gratitude puts grief in context.
“When one hurts deeply, when there’s scar tissue on the heart, when things appear to be hopeless…the most powerful antidote for such conditions is thanksgiving.” Richard A. Burr, Developing Your Secret Closet of Prayer
Grief comes because the loss is so great. The loss is so great because the one I lost was such a blessing—a gift of grace—in my life. Therefore, in time, loss gives birth to gratitude. Again, call it a counterattack on grief. This discipline of gratitude helped me keep perspective. It kept me grounded. Yes, I had experienced a great and tragic loss. But she was a gift from a loving Father who cared for me. And he cares for me now.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James 1:17
“Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison