When you’re dealing with a chronic illness, it’s easy to focus on all the things we can’t do or don’t have. But God clearly communicates in Scripture His expectation that we give thanks “in everything” (I Thess 5:18). Including in chronic illness.
So as we celebrate Thanksgiving, if you’re struggling to find things to be thankful for, here are some of the blessings we can all count:
1. The Promises of God
God gives us His Word both to teach us about Himself and to comfort us with His promises, such as
- His promise to never leave us (Heb 13:5, Ps 23:4, Is 43:2)
- His promise of purpose for our pain (Ro 8:28)
- His promise of comfort in every trial (II Cor 1:3-5)
- His promise that His grace is sufficient (II Cor 12:8-9)
- His promise that we’ll have a new body (II Cor 5:1)
- His promise of a pain-free eternity with Him (Rev 21:4)
- His promise to help us and strengthen us (Is 41:10)
What other promises can you find in Scripture?
Cultivate gratitude: Bring a notebook to your Bible time and write down all of God’s promises that apply to you. Keep this notebook handy for the times you feel discouraged.
God communicates to us through His Word. We communicate with God through prayer.
When we come to Him in prayer, we can
- give Him our anxieties (I Pet 5:8)
- thank Him for His blessings (Phil 4:6)
- ask Him to meet our needs (Matt 6:8)
- worship Him for who He is (Ps 118:1)
- claim His promises (2 Cor 1:20)
- express our dependence on Him (Jn 15:5)
- and so much more.
What a gift God has given us in this privilege of prayer! When was the last time you thanked Him for it?
Cultivate gratitude: Schedule time every day for prayer: ten minutes, half an hour, two hours, as much time as you need. Begin this time with gratitude for who God is and what He has done.
3. The Capacities You (Still) Have
If your chronic illness has taken certain capacities from you, limiting you in what you can do, take a moment and think about what you still have and still can do.
Even if they come and go, never take for granted these basic abilities to
These abilities may seem small and insignificant, but imagine life without one of them, let alone all of them.
We remain so blessed.
Cultivate gratitude: Pick one of these capacities and do something that lets you use and enjoy this capacity (e.g., eat a favorite treat, listen to a favorite song, talk to a favorite person). Thank God for the capacity and the activity.
4. The People Who Help You
Whether you ask them or they offer, whether you pay them or they volunteer, God always puts people in our lives who help us carry out the tasks of everyday life or manage the big things we can’t do on our own.
These people might include
Who are the helpers in your life? Do they know how much you appreciate them?
Cultivate gratitude: Write a thank-you note to one of these helpers. Be specific in telling them what you appreciate about them and their work.
5. Medical Resources
We know professionals don’t always have the answers and haven’t always been able to help us. But step away from any frustration and think about where you might be without these professionals, whatever their title or position.
What about the technology they have to test, screen, scan, check, and diagnose?
What about the treatments, medicines, drugs, and remedies they offer?
What about the supplies and devices they provide that let you carry out your life: wheelchair, brace, tape, supports, etc.?
These people and things may not take away all our pain, but they sure make life easier. Are you thankful for them?
Cultivate gratitude: It’s easy to complain or feel bitter when these resources let us down. Instead of giving in to discouragement, identify one person, treatment, or device that has helped you and include this gratitude in your next prayer time.
No valley is meant to be traveled alone. That’s why God gives us friends, the people who care about us, invest in us, and support us in our journey.
Can you imagine walking through your valley without your friends?
Neither can I.
Thank God for the friends who understand you and share your pain. If they don’t understand but love you anyway, thank God for them too.
Every friend is a gift from God.
Cultivate gratitude: Contact one of these friends and tell them how thankful you are for them. Tell them WHY you’re thankful for them!
7. The People Who Accommodate You
For those of us who interact with other people on any professional, academic, or sometimes personal level, these people often make accommodations for us. They extend deadlines, modify projects, provide extra sick days, or otherwise giving us the grace we sometimes don’t give ourselves.
These people include
- and others.
Who are these people in your life? Have you thanked God for them? Have you thanked them for the grace they extend to you?
Cultivate gratitude: Make or buy a little gift of appreciation for one of these people. Give it to them with a word or note of gratitude.
8. The Things You Can Do
If I asked you to name the things you can’t do because of your health, you could probably give me a ten-page list in 30 seconds. (I know I could.)
But have you stopped to thank God for the things you can do?
What are your hobbies? The projects you’re working on? The activities you share with friends or family? Do you have a part-time (or even a full-time) job?
We’re limited, yes. But by God’s grace, there are always things–no matter how small–that we can still do, even if we can’t do them every day.
What activities are you thankful for?
Cultivate gratitude: Choose something you can do (and enjoy doing) and do it today. Schedule regular time for these activities as a way both to enrich yourself and to serve others.
9. Unique Opportunities
We may not always see it at the time, but for every door that our health condition closes, another door opens.
These special doors–opened just for us–give us unique opportunities to
- shine for Christ
- make friends
- share the gospel
- show compassion
- receive help
- depend on God
- help others.
If it weren’t for our chronic illness, we wouldn’t see these specific blessings. Thank God for the opportunities He’s given specially to you, and ask Him to open your eyes to more of these open doors!
Cultivate gratitude: Think about the past year of your life. What opportunities have you had, blessings have you received because of your health condition? Pick one opportunity or blessing and write about it.
10. Lessons Learned
One of Charles Stanley’s Life Principles is, “We learn more in our valley experiences than on our mountaintops.”
These valleys are tough times, but true to God’s promise (Ro 8:28), they always yield fruit, even if we don’t see all of this fruit right away.
For example, over my years of illness I’ve learned the value of rest. I’ve learned ways to take care of myself and invest in my health. I’ve learned to lean more heavily on God and appreciate the little things.
What have you learned in your valley?
Cultivate gratitude: Find a quiet spot and, with a notebook or journal, write out the lessons you’ve learned from your chronic illness. Consider keeping a journal to regularly record these experiences and lessons.
What would you add to this list? How do you cultivate gratitude in your chronic illness? What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? Let us know in the comments!