It’s the season of Thanksgiving, but there is one thing for which I am not grateful:
I know what some of you might be thinking:
How dare she not be thankful in all things?
Have we not been commanded to always be thankful?
The scriptures say so:
“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, emphasis added.)
“….do all in the name of Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” (Colossians 3:17, emphasis added.)
“…Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;” (Ephesians 5:20, emphasis added.)
“…but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know unto God.” (Philippians 4:6, emphasis added.)
A vivid memory from a November Sunday over fifteen years ago comes to mind.
As a young, newly-married, college student, I sat in a testimony meeting, completely shocked--and a little bit judgy--over every word I was hearing from a woman in our congregation.
“I’m not thankful for my trials. I’m not grateful for them! In fact, I wish I didn’t have trials!” (She was passionately raising her voice a bit, and I was trying hard to not let my jaw drop open in unbelief.)
"I will never understand or believe that God, our loving Father, would want us to go through some of the terrible things like what I’m having to go through now! I don’t believe everything is ‘God’s Will.’ Why would He want me to suffer? Maybe I’m not as strong as others, but I’m just not grateful for my trials.”
I could not believe someone at the pulpit was saying that we shouldn’t be grateful for our trials. Isn’t that just the opposite of how we are supposed to feel? Aren’t we commanded to be grateful for all things? I was sure there were countless quotes from church leaders to back me up. The term "thankful heart" came to mind. A thankful heart is one that "...allows us to face trials from in the knowledge of Heavenly Father's love for us...When gratitude fills our hearts, there is no room for unhappiness." (Carolyn Wright, The Thankful Heart, Ensign, March 1994.)
I now realize, of course, that I unfairly judged that woman as weak all those years ago. Simply because I felt that I’d been able to “conquer” the trials of my life without feeling ungrateful that I was strong, and she was wrong. Oh, how naïve that was! How silly to think I’d already been through the hardest parts of life in only 19 short years!
In the decade that followed, I struggled through the pains of infertility and several miscarriages. My husband and I were poor college students for ten years, many times having educational and professional doors slammed on us, only to force open windows, climb through, and keep going.
On the other side of these hardships, we learned to see many ways in which our struggles were all worth it, for they prepared us for our strong-willed and stubborn children and the career path and location we were meant to have. We, for the most part, remained happy. We could look back in gratitude for the lessons and preparation the Lord had blessed us with through our unique experiences. We had learned to give thanks, even for the most difficult times. I thought I was stronger (better) than that sister, for I could be grateful for my trials.
Then, a huge and scary trial hit....
It was hard, but we fought it and beat it!
Until, that is, that cancer came back fourteen months later, metastatic in my bones, Stage 4.
I was sad and angry.
In fact, I became that woman, the one I had so harshly judged a decade earlier when she stood and admitted that she was not grateful for her trials.
I was not glad I had cancer.
I was unhappy and ungrateful for that trial.
I wished I could simply wake up and never have to think about cancer again.
How would I move forward?
Would I become bitter and hardened?
Would cancer cause me to lose my testimony,
to feel that God wasn’t watching over me and my family?
However, I still wasn't glad I had cancer.
I began to learn that it was okay for me to hate cancer, yet still give thanks to God. Turning back to scriptures, I didn't feel they specifically told me to pray saying, “thanks for giving me cancer.” I felt scriptures talked more about being thankful IN all things, to pray in thanksgiving, to do all things in the name of the Lord and give thanks unto God. Maybe it’s just semantics, but I began to see how I could still praise God from whom all blessings flow, being thankful for all my many blessings, without exactly saying, “I’m thankful for cancer.” I could have gratitude in my heart every day, even though I was not happy about a cancer diagnosis.
I took great comfort from Christ himself. I don't think He liked bleeding from every pore. In fact, He asked God to “remove this cup." (see Luke 22:42). I doubt Christ enjoyed being spit upon, whipped, having a crown of thorns dug into his head, or being nailed to a cross. Through all the hardships, Jesus never stopped loving and serving God. Christ knew His purpose and what He was called to do, even when the way wasn't easy.
We, too, have a purpose in life. Even if the experiences and trials are unique, the lessons we need to master as mortals can be universal:
temperance, to name a few.
(see Galatians 5:23).
We don’t have to love our trials, but we need to remain thankful during them. This can be accomplished by learning to focus on the blessings during hard times, or even the good that comes from them, even if it is just a change of heart and mind. When we recognize the strength and the lessons that trials teach, we are giving thanks in all things.
I still hate that I (or anyone) has to go through cancer, but I can thank cancer without being thankful for it:
- Thanks to cancer, I’ve had a reason for turning to and becoming closer with God.
- Thanks to cancer, my heart has been converted, and I’ve had more opportunities to share my testimony and faith with others.
- Thanks to cancer, I have met people I might never have met without sharing that common bond.
- Thanks to cancer, I’ve slowly become an optimist, even in an uncertain future.
- Thanks to cancer, I can look for everyday miracles, while learning to let go of the unimportant things.
- Thanks to cancer, I know that God knows me personally and meets my needs through the charity of others.
- Thanks to cancer, I’ve learned that happiness and heartache can coexist.
- Thanks to cancer, I’ve started to see more through an eternal perspective.
- Thanks to cancer, I’m forced to make each moment count, as my moments might not be as many as I once thought.
- Thanks to cancer, I’ve learned what it means to “wax stronger and stronger in humility.” (Helaman 3:35)
- Thanks to cancer, there have been a million other lessons I’ve learned, even those of which I am unaware.
Even though I’m not grateful that I have cancer, I can still have a spirit of thanksgiving. I can be grateful for individual blessings during this trial and for the lessons I’ve learned through my experiences in fighting cancer.
And, in thanking cancer, I’m really only thanking God for all additional blessings and strength because of my diagnosis. He truly has “…poured out his Spirit upon [me,] and has caused that [my] heart should be filled with joy.” (Mosiah 4:20).
I am not thankful for cancer, but I can always give thanks unto God.
Melodee Cooper is a Texan by birth, an Aggie by choice, the wife of a fellow Aggie because “he loves her more,” and a mother of three boys by a combination of time, modern science, and divine intervention. She has taught both 5th and 6th grade math and science, and is now able to be a stay-at-home mom, an amateur decorator, a crafter, a blogger, and a holiday enthusiast. She is battling Stage 4 cancer while remaining optimistic and grateful for the blessings in her life.