Give thanks with a grateful heart,
give thanks to the Holy One;
give thanks, because he’s given Jesus Christ, his Son.
And now let the weak say, “I am strong,”
let the poor say, “I am rich,”
because of what the Lord has done for us.”
I first heard this hymn, “Give Thanks,” when I was in high school back in the ’80s. I’ve always loved the lyrics, so I was pleased to see it in the ELCA worship book This Far By Faith (292).
Lately this song has been on my heart almost daily. As a teenager, thanksgiving and a grateful heart seemed like a logical equation. But now, as an adult, I’m confident that a thankful heart isn’t a prerequisite for offering gratitude. Aren’t we able to give thanks with heavy hearts, broken hearts, grieving hearts?
Recently, I’ve been feeling rather heavy-hearted, so I’ve been asking myself, “Is the good news still good when it seems as if life is a chaotic state of affairs?” Perhaps I’m not alone.
Thankfully, the psalmist provides rock-solid assurance by reminding us of God’s remarkable faithfulness: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). So the answer is clear: yes, God is indeed good, even when life isn’t.
We live in unpredictable and confusing times. Violence, natural disasters, political strife and living through a pandemic have created varying degrees of trauma for nearly everyone. Some of us are unemployed and struggling. Some of us have experienced severe illness and continuing poor health. Some of us have broken relationships with no sign of reconciliation. And still there are others.
There are those of us who have lost loved ones and the holiday season seems unbearable. At least during this time of year, we tend to be a little more thoughtful and a little more generous toward those around us.
The songwriter encourages us to “give thanks with a grateful heart,” but, in times like these, many of us are grieving and grateful. As we carry these two realities in tension, I grow increasingly convinced that heavy-hearted praise is just as precious, just as tender, as sacred shouts of sheer joy. Perhaps this is what the psalmist means by “a thanksgiving sacrifice” (Psalm 116:17).
We can have anxious hearts and still appreciate all that God has done and continues to do in, with, for and through humanity. We can bring our brokenhearted gratitude before God as “a sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15).
The future is uncertain, but hasn’t it always been? Even still, I’m convinced that nothing is more powerful than God’s love. Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor COVID-19 or any of its variants can separate us from the love of God poured out for all humanity through Jesus Christ.
Yes, there will still be times when we find ourselves surrounded by friction and we may feel overwhelmed. We may want to give up. We may want to quit. We may even want to run away, to escape.
But be encouraged, because even in the throes of tragedy and heartbreak, the good news persists. There is no circumstance that can negate our baptismal reality. Jesus has made a way for us. Therefore, our gratitude—our thankfulness—doesn’t come from the way our life is unfolding. Rather, our gratitude comes from the life that was laid down for us in Christ Jesus.
Bring your thanksgiving offerings to God whether your hearts are heavy or light, whether they are filled with joy or filled with anxiety—or perhaps a mixture of both. We offer our hearts in sincerity, trusting that God is near, taking up residence in our brokenhearted praise and making a home for all of humanity. Thanks be to God!