Can You, Should You, Be Thankful for That?

By Mary E. Stephens
Nov. 2017

A thought crossed my mind recently: I wondered what people would think if, at a thanksgiving service, a woman actually thanked the Lord that she did not have children. Or what if a man or lady thanked the Lord that he or she is single. What would the other Christians there think? This set me to thinking.

We tend to have many expectations in life. If certain expectations don't come to pass, people think of this as a tragic loss or that a blessing has been withheld that “should have been". Having a husband (or wife) and children are two of those things. Basic good health is another. Comfortable housing, running water, electricity - the list can get quite long.

I hear people speak of children as "blessings" although I have not found a place in scripture where this is specifically said – not in the King James Bible anyway. Obviously all children can be a blessing, if they walk in integrity and truth.

3 John 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.

Proverbs 31:28 Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.

I’m not sure where the idea originated that all children are automatically blessings. I expect it is partly a reaction to the world's unthankful attitude toward children. But, although children are a good responsibility and it is a blessing to teach them the truths of God, it does not follow that having and raising children is always a blessing. Sometimes they are a real sorrow or disappointment in some way, even to godly parents who walked in truth. (See Samuel the prophet's experience with his sons in 1 Samuel 8.)

People more readily admit that a husband or a wife may not always be a blessing because some marriages have turned out very badly in one way or another. Still, there is that expectation that all Christians will eventually get married. Those who don’t eagerly pursue this may find themselves being pushed and nagged by those who think they are “taking too long” or are “too picky.”

The Apostle Paul wrote this:

Philippians 4:11-13 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Now, if he was content in all things, don’t you think that he would also be thankful?

Christians sometimes quote 1 Thessalonians 5:18, In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. They may emphasize “In every thing…” and say that we don’t have to give thanks for everything. Yet the Spirit of God clearly tells us through Paul in another place that we should be thankful for all things.

Ephesians 5:20 Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;

A friend of mine was posting a “31 days of gratitude challenge” in October on Facebook. One of her questions was “What pain are you grateful for?” I had to honestly answer that I couldn’t say that I was thankful for my anxiety disorder, but that it has taught me some important lessons for which I’m thankful. I also haven’t learned to be thankful for migraines, although I am thankful for the sympathy I’ve learned for others through them. But, this shows my limitations, not that it is impossible to give always thanks for all things. I should be thankful for that pain, despite its hardship. Anything that pushes us closer to Jesus Christ and causes us to cast ourselves more wholly upon Him is something to be thankful for, unpleasant as that seems. Like contentment, it is something that we generally have to learn.

And, since we’re thinking about this, we should realize that children who are “not a blessing” are something to be thankful for as well. Oh, that is a difficult thought if you know the sorrow and pain that some children put their parents through. But, through those trials many Christians have gained the knowledge they needed to help others in the midst of their trials or parenting mistakes.

I freely admit that there are things that happen in life that are extremely hard to thank God for. Most recently I would think of the people who were killed in the church shooting in Texas in November (2017). I don’t know how one would give thanks for that, especially those who lost loved ones. Since I don’t have an answer for that, I won’t try to invent one. There are certainly things in the situation that one could give thanks for, such as the fact that most or all of those people are likely in heaven now (other than the murderer himself). But to give thanks for it --- that is hard.

When someone is able to give thanks for a terrible tragedy we might think that is a person of great faith or a hero. But when it comes to some things in life, we are more likely to judge a thankful person than to appreciate their faith. Why do you suppose that is?

Returning to my first thoughts, when someone says they are thankful they don’t have children or that they are single, people are apt to think they are selfish or that they are lying to cover up their real feelings. I know from personal experience that you can feel guilty for being thankful for some things. After all, everyone is “supposed” to be married and have kids, and many people grieve extensively when they “miss out." But, is it wrong to be thankful and feel blessed that God withheld things?

“Wait, what was that? God blesses in those ways? You mean that not having children or not having a spouse could actually be a blessing from God?”

Yes, that is exactly what I mean. Even health problems – a thorn in the flesh – can be a blessing from God.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 7 Paul speaks of the blessedness the single people have in caring for the things of the Lord and serving the Him without distraction. He also referred to Timothy as his son in the faith (1 Timothy 1:2 and 18). We never hear about him having any biological children and yet, in caring for the things of Christ, he saw himself as the spiritual father of Timothy, and probably others.

Paul also said he gloried and took pleasure in his infirmities! In other words, they were a blessing to him. He was thankful for them in the context of how he writes.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

Counted Worthy

This weighty burden thou dost bear,
This heavy cross,
It is a gift the Lord bestows,
And not a loss;
It is a trust that He commits
Unto thy care,
A precious lesson He has deigned
With thee to share.

Rejoice that He so honors thee
And so esteems
Of highest worth; the crown of thorns
With Him to wear,
And all the suffering of that crown
With Him to bear,
That by and by His glory, too,
With Him thou’lt share.

By Annie Johnson Flint

It is easy to use our expectations to define blessings and things that are thankworthy. This causes us to completely miss the fact that some so-called “trials” or “losses” are actually things for which we can be thankful.

If I had married earlier than I did just because I could have and in order to “have something” that everyone expected me to have, I would not have been single when I met my husband. That’s a no-brainer, but wow, it would have made a huge difference in my life! Looking back, I have serious doubts that there was anyone I could have been as comfortable and happy with as I am with him. Not because they were all “bad” guys, but because I don’t think any of them would have fit with my needs as well as he has. So, I thank God for my years of being single because it brought me to the point of marrying a man who has been a blessing to me in ways that others would not have been.

I am also thankful that we have not had children, while realizing there is a remote chance that it could still happen. It isn’t that I don’t like children. I’m happy for other people who have children. I pray for friends who desire children and struggle with infertility and miscarriages. But, for my own part, I see how difficult it is to raise children in this present world and I see the struggles other people have with their children and I’m thankful that the Lord has seen fit to allow a different course for my life. It would have been a point of constant grief to me to have had a child or children who inherited some of my health problems, especially the anxiety and depression issues. I know that it would have compounded my personal struggles to try to help a child of my own deal with those things.

I also now know that I was likely exposed to a toxic chemical as a small child which mothers can pass on to their children in the womb and through breast feeding. (It is something that does not break down quickly, and lasts for generations, literally. They don’t seem to know how many yet.) At this point I’m thankful that I have not had children to pass that on to.

I have known two ladies in my life who lost their husbands and so were delivered of unhappy marriages. Both of them went on to find joy and peace in other ways. One married again to a Christian man who brought a great deal of joy to her life. The other continued on single, having realized that she only married in the first place to please the people around her and that it was not God’s will for her to be a married woman. She served the Lord for years in various ways as a single lady. I would guess that both of these ladies could give thanks to God for the deaths of their respective husbands.

I knew a pastor’s wife once who had been molested as a child. This is a tragic experience no matter how you look at it. She was teaching the young teen girls in their church and on one occasion she discussed the issue of molestation. Because she had been through that experience herself she recognized the responses of a couple girls in the group and then knew that they were being molested. She hoped that she would be able to minister to them more directly in their need if they would open up to her. She and her husband were also very particular about personal space and respecting boundaries, which is always a healthy thing in a pastor’s family. I don’t know if she could ever be thankful that those horrible experiences happened to her, but surely they gave her tools she needed in the work to which God called her.

Isn’t it strange how we find it so difficult to accept other people being thankful for their hard things?

What could you thank God for that would be hard – hard for you or hard for others to accept? Maybe it is a health condition or some life event. Maybe it is not having children, or having many children. Maybe it is being single. Perhaps it is even the death of a loved one.

I think that maybe sometimes we have to be thankful to the Lord for our hard things in private rather than publically. We may be able to share it with a few who are close to us and understand. We may need to share it with someone who needs to hear our thanksgiving to God so that they will be brave to thank Him for their hard thing too.

Other times the Lord wants us to praise Him openly for those hard things so that others might stop and think about what it means to be thankful for all things. Not all our tragedies are meant to be kept secret. Usually at some point along the way the Lord wants us speak up and use it to His glory.

Psalm 42:5 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.

Psalm 138:7-8 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, thou wilt revive me: thou shalt stretch forth thine hand against the wrath of mine enemies, and thy right hand shall save me. The LORD will perfect that which concerneth me: thy mercy, O LORD, endureth for ever: forsake not the works of thine own hands.

What glory, what honor, what praise it gives to the Lord when we are willing to praise Him in the midst of trouble, and even to thank Him for the hard things of life. To give thanks always for all things is a huge challenge for this weak flesh. In fact, unless we have the enabling power of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, I don’t think we can do it.

Going back to Philippians 4 look again at what Paul says.

Philippians 4:11-13 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

After he says that he has learned to be content in whatever state he found himself; after he says he knows how to be full and empty, to have and to suffer loss, he tells us how he can do it. It is through Christ which strengthened him.

We quote that verse rather carelessly sometimes, don’t we? In the context it is about being both full and hungry, both abounding and suffering need. It is not just about Christ’s strength to help us be up and doing and accomplishing and succeeding; it is also about His strength to be alone and empty and in prison and lacking. It is only in that strength that we can truly give “…thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”.

These are difficult things to think about and harder still to do. It requires a certain dying to this life to be able to thank God for some things. The Apostle Paul wrote these powerful words in 2 Corinthians 4:6-11:

For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.

This is how we learn to thank God for those hard things. It is the only way, really.

Related links on this site:

A Thanksgiving

A Thanksgiving for Hard Things

The Shadow of the Cross



Graphics and photos by Mary Stephens.
Vintage graphics - top: unknown, bottom:
updated 2019