The Emotional and Physical Benefits of Thanks-Living (Thanksgiving, Thankfulness)

Each November here in the USA, we celebrate a very godly holiday—Thanksgiving. The goal of this article is to motivate you to make every day of the year one of “thanks-living.” Thankfulness is a refrain that is often heard in Christian circles. In fact, the theme of thankfulness is something that should be central to our daily Christian practice. [1] I can recall many teachings I’ve heard through the years about all the various things we should be thankful for. There is no doubt that God is deserving of great praise and thanksgiving for all He has done. I marvel at the creatures mentioned in the book of Revelation whose primary purpose appears to be to praise God day and night. [2] Now that is some serious thanksgiving. Yet, in spite of this, I have wondered at times why God tells us to give Him thanks. I know He deserves it, and I want to do it, but it seemed a little self-centered that He commands us to give Him thanks. I remember being told as a child that I should not give something or do something for others if my motivation is to be thanked. Knowing that God always has our best interests at heart, I reasoned that there must be a deeper meaning to the giving of thanks. Then one day I learned the answer in a very powerful way.

My dog Adam had been my companion and friend for 14 years, and had seen me through many ups and downs. During this tumultuous time of my life I went through many legal problems and much financial difficulty. Adam was always a great comfort to me, listening to many of my conversations, never demanding much from me, and always lavishing great affection my way. He was always well behaved and never one to stray more than a few feet from my side, so much so that some even referred to him as my shadow. I watched my dear friend grow older and weaker as time wore on. His eyes began to dim, his hearing lessened, and his hindquarters weakened. Long gone were the days of fetch and play. I did all I could to comfort my dog, knowing the day would soon come when I would have to say good-bye for good. If you are not a dog lover or an animal person, maybe you can relate to my story if you have lost someone near and dear to you.

Well, the day came when my wife, Lori, and I headed to the veterinarian’s to put Adam to sleep. I held my dog in my arms, tears rolling down my face, as I told him how much he had meant to me. I sobbed as he closed his eyes for the last time. Both Lori and the veterinarian respected my request to be left alone with my friend. In the solitude of the exam room, deep in my grief I cried out, “God I need your comfort.” I held on to the promise of God’s Word that He is “…the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles…” (2 Cor. 1:3b-4a). I called to Him out loud, and then spoke what I believe was an inspired thought: “God, thank you for giving me such a good dog.” I instantly felt a deep joy well up inside me. I knew God had heard and answered me. It was in the giving of thanks that I felt His comfort. I left the veterinarian’s that day still very sad, yet having great joy and comfort in my sorrow.

Afterward, I continued to reflect on the great spiritual joy I experienced that day. It was apparent to me that there was a lot more to thankfulness than I had ever seen before. Maybe God was telling us to be thankful not just because He deserves it but because of what it does for us. I noticed that there was a direct connection between joy and thankfulness in many sections of Scripture. [3] In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, God says, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances….” Many times I had read this passage of Scripture and wondered, “How can I always be joyful when there are times in life that do not lend themselves to joy?” Then I saw the key. I do not have to be thankful for every situation, but in every situation I can always find something to be thankful for and that is what produces joy. It is a matter of perspective, and I always have the ability of changing my perspective. That is exactly what God did for me the day my dog Adam died. I was focused on my loss, and that is what was producing my deep grief. God helped me change my perspective when He inspired me to think of what a wonderful pet Adam had been. When I thanked Him for giving me such a wonderful friend, my sadness changed to joy.

I believe thankfulness is a powerful antidote for many of the emotional and physical problems we see in our society. Thankfulness is a mindset we can choose, and one that we experience emotionally throughout our entire body. One’s state of mind and his physical condition are inextricably linked, and how you feel emotionally affects how you feel physically.

The medical community has scientifically documented the mind-body connection in regard to many diseases. [4] I read that “fear has been shown to trigger more than fourteen hundred known physical and chemical stress reactions, and activates more than thirty different hormones and neurotransmitters.” [5] Uninterrupted long-term stress has been linked to problems in the heart and vascular systems such as hypertension (high blood pressure), palpitations, and arrhythmias. Most recognize the emotional connection to ulcers, gastritis, heartburn, indigestion, and bowel irregularities. The list continues, including skin disorders (psoriasis, eczema, hives, and acne), pain, inflammation, suppressed immune systems, etc. [6]

The “psycho-somatic” connection should not surprise us. As God tells us in Proverbs 14:30, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” This passage no longer seems an abstract word of wisdom, but a saying of great impact. Consider also Proverbs 15:13, “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit,” and Proverbs 17:22, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries the bones.” The importance of God’s references to the bones is that bones contain the red and white marrow from which come the blood’s red and white cells. Red blood cells carry life-sustaining oxygen to the entire body and white blood cells are a primary defense in our immune system. God clearly directs us to the mind-body connection, establishing for us the deadly consequences of negative emotions in our hearts.

Our heavenly Father never intended for us to live in a state of unchecked stress, unresolved anger, bitterness, or unforgiveness. When we couple stress and negative emotions with poor nutrition and unhealthy environmental conditions, we have a recipe for sickness and disease. Stress, anxiety, anger, shame, guilt, bitterness, resentment, unforgiveness, and condemnation are killing us. “In the United States we consume five billion tranquilizers, five billion barbiturates, three billion amphetamines, and sixteen tons of aspirin every year.” [7] We are kidding ourselves to think that we can keep stuffing emotions year after year without paying a serious price. The medical evidence says that the price we pay is our physical and emotional well-being. One dermatologist stated that for many people, “eczema and psoriasis is the body weeping through the skin.” [8]

Through the years as I have counseled and ministered to many individuals, I have noted that most physical healing is accompanied by emotional healing as well. Something happens deep inside a person when he releases his negative emotions, and forgiveness and thankfulness are two great keys to accomplishing this. After all, it’s awfully hard to hold on to negative emotions when we grab hold of thankfulness also. It is almost as if there’s not enough emotional strength to hold both at the same time. When someone does something that upsets me, I practice praying for them and being thankful for them. Generally, my attitude towards them shifts, and I begin to see the value they are. I am not advocating that you drop healthy boundaries and allow unsafe people into your life, or that you need to be thankful for anyone who has persecuted or abused you, but even in those cases you can still release the hold they have on you by practicing forgiveness.

Our society is designed to wreak havoc on us. After all, this world is under the control of the Devil [9] whose aim is to steal, kill, and destroy us. [10] We cannot escape the corruption of this world but God tells us that in the midst of this we can have great joy. [11] Hebrews 10:34 tells us that our first-century brethren “…joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.” They chose to look at life from an eternal perspective which allowed them to live in thankfulness and experience joy in spite of their persecution and loss. Another powerful example of the power of perspective is found in Acts 5. In this record the apostles have suffered a flogging at the hands of the Sanhedrin. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves or defeated because of the persecution they chose to leave the Sanhedrin “…rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” [12]

The Bible is filled with records of many men who practiced “thanks-living.” This attitude helped David endure a life on the run, sleeping in caves and the wilderness, with a death sentence from Saul on his head. [13] Practicing “thanks-living” is not the same as practicing denial. It is not the same as denying the pain of a situation or pretending that everything is fine when it really is not. “Thanks-living” is being able to be thankful in spite of our circumstances because we choose to take a godly perspective.

We always have much to be thankful to God for. He is worthy of praise and thanks for His wondrous works of Creation, His deeds, His righteousness (which He has given us), His good and holy name, and His unfailing love. In every situation we have the ability to change our perspective. We can choose to look at the negative of the situation, holding on to deadly emotions, or we can practice “thanks-living” and enjoy its benefits. The choice is ours.

Endnotes

[1] Colossians 3:15; Hebrews 12:28.
[2] Revelation 4:8.
[3] See Colossians 1:9-12.
[4] Don Colbert, M.D., Deadly Emotions (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN, 2003).
[5] Ibid., p. 13. (Quoted in H. Dreher, The Immune Power Personality, (New York: Dutton, 1995), p. 55.
[6] Ibid., pp. 25-27.
[7] Ibid., p. IX (D. Wayne, “Reactions to Stress,” found in Identifying Stress, a series offered by Health-Net & Stress Management Web site, February, 1998).
[8] Ibid., p. 21.
[9] See 1 John 5:19; Ephesians 6:11; 2 Corinthians 4:4.
[10] John 10:10a, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…”
[11] James 1:2, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.”
[12] Acts 5:41b.
[13] See all the following verses: Psalms 7:17, 28:7, 30:12, 35:18, 75:1, 100:1, 4, 105:1, 106:1, 107: 1, 8, 15, 21, 31.

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