Navigating Grief with Gratitude

Grief can be a roadblock to gratitude. However, being intentional about gratitude helps us achieve victory over and not simply acceptance of our circumstances as unfortunate reality.

In this season of thanks, many may find it hard to have a heart of gratitude. No matter the reason, life may simply be hard and unfair and the trials seem unending. Perhaps this season brings up memories of pain from years past. We want to overflow with gratitude, but the wondering of “why me?” seems to overpower any desire or drive to give thanks.


When I was in nursing school, we learned all about the Stages of Grief and the context was always the loss of a loved one. I learned that grief has 5 stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. It made sense. I had experienced more than one recent death in my own family in the 3-4 years preceding nursing school, so I could see how those stages could apply to most people who have lost a loved one. However, it was not until later in life when I faced various life responsibilities and a variety of patients that I realized that grief comes in many forms and for many reasons other than death. In my clinical practice, I certainly began to see that grief was not restricted to the loss of loved ones.   


I learned that a scary diagnosis, a broken relationship, a deferred dream, loss of a job, or some other significant source of stress and despair causes us to grieve.  

Did you know that engaging in habits of gratitude actually rewires our brains and eventually leads to improved mood? Grief can be a roadblock to gratitude. However, being intentional about gratitude helps us achieve victory over and not simply acceptance of our circumstances as unfortunate reality. 


In the newness of the crisis of grief, it’s very difficult to muster up the emotional or spiritual energy for gratitude. The mind and body are in survival mode and the exercise—the discipline—of gratitude often cannot gain a footing. The immediate aftermath is understandably not very conducive to any meaningful, consistent gratitude because we are barely treading the waters of life.


We can often easily identify how grief affects our minds and spirits, but how often do we think of the impact on our bodies? I see many grieving people in healthcare because grief, and especially prolonged grief, wreaks havoc on the body. So, people show up for help with physical symptoms that are often tied to emotional and spiritual burdens that they are carrying. I personally know that I carry my stress and grief in my stomach and shoulders. In some, it may manifest as chest pain or high blood pressure or migraine headaches. I do not want to suggest that these problems are always related to trauma and grief, but we must always explore that as a possibility. What do you notice happening in your body during seasons of grief? Pay attention and learn to recognize ways your body is communicating stress and be intentional about addressing them early. 


Consider God’s servant Job. In the book of Job, we see this faithful man go through the stages of grief. Job’s story is a very sobering one, right? This idea that God would allow someone He has deemed blameless and upright to go through all that he did is very humbling. In chapter 1, after finding out he had lost his children and possessions, Job seems to go right into the Acceptance stage of grief (He tore his robe, shaved his head, fell to the ground and worshiped, saying “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked will I return. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Job 1:20-21).


Even in the midst of his grief and shock, Job utters words of gratitude and blesses the name of the Lord. This acceptance, however, is full of lamentation. He is in the immediate aftermath of loss and the shock that comes with such a sudden and significant loss. By the end of chapter 2, we see Job’s friends arrive to sit with and support him in his suffering. However, if we follow the arc of this story, we see Job’s wife and friends start to challenge his integrity by telling him to curse God and questioning his spiritual walk. They meant well. They were grieving with him and wanted to move on. They had likely gone through many of the same emotions as Job, especially his wife. Their words to him were a form of bargaining in that they are offering ways for this suffering to end. Job began bargaining with his friends and Job’s friends began bargaining with him. Like many grappling with their grief, Job went through and revisited stages in no particular order. Throughout his story, we see Job declare some truths that He knows about God’s character and what He knows God thinks about him. 


Although there are times when it is simply too hard to thank God for the circumstances, we can exercise the discipline of stating what we know about God and this plants the seeds that we need to cultivate gratitude and enjoy the fruit that giving thanks produces in our lives. Job keeps his resolve even when his friends imply that he is wicked, godless, and full of sin. However, he does have brief moments of doubt and self-pity. God’s grace is sufficient to carry us in these less-than-stellar moments! 


How does one thrive even after achieving Acceptance? Mere acceptance doesn’t get us all the way to victory—we can still accept what has happened and make plans for the future and not truly have joy. Acceptance gets us just to the brink. Gratitude is what helps us achieve that deeper purpose we find when we have walked through our grief and came out on the other end whole and thankful that our Heavenly Father was by our side the entire time. So, friend, as hard as it may seem, developing a discipline of gratitude–even for the smallest of things–starts to do a work in us that eventually leads to our victory over the pain.


The sting of grief may always remain, but God’s grace is sufficient enough to lead us to a place in which we can show genuine gratitude to have been granted healing.

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email