Thank You for the Valley

Many families have a tradition at Thanksgiving to take turns expressing gratitude for the blessings in their lives. Most often, these are positive events, experiences, and/or acknowledgments of people. I am at a loss to think of a time I have heard someone in my family or on a Thanksgiving television series/movie speak of being thankful for a difficulty.
In the Bible, both James (James 1) and Paul (Romans 5) tell us to count our sufferings as joy as they produce endurance, which produces character, and ultimately produces hope. How often, though, do we actually express gratitude in the middle of the painful experience? What would it look like to be truly thankful when things are not going well?
When I was growing up, we sang the hymn “Thank You for the Valley.” The chorus of this hymn included these words:
“Thank you for the valley I walked through today, the darker the valley the more I learned to pray. Thank you for all the hills I climbed, for every time the sun didn’t shine. I thank you for the valley I walked through today.”
Do you live your life like this? In your darkest hours, do you say “thank you, God, I am really learning to depend on you”? That wouldn’t be me. I am 100% praying, “please, God, take me out of this situation!” I am more like David who said in Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?”
What would it be like to learn all that God has for us in these heavy times when we have nothing else to focus on but God’s presence? What would it be like to find joy in knowing that when everything else seems out of control, God is there holding us through it – while in the midst of the chaos? In Paul’s words, we would be growing our endurance, strengthening our character, increasing our hope. In this way, the suffering becomes joy because we are growing closer to God and becoming more of who He wants us to be. 
Consider the words in Isaiah 43:2: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” How would our faith walk look different if we looked for God in the fire rather than complaining about being burned and then finding God after the fire is quenched?
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (I Cor 4:17). I don’t believe, though, that it is the actual suffering which accomplishes this glory that Paul referenced. Rather, it is our thanksgiving, our endurance, our character development, and our hope in Christ that allows this exchange to take place.
What if this year, instead of recalling bountiful blessings and silver linings, you share moments of struggle in which you grew in your walk with Christ? 1 Peter 5:10 tell us, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

-Robyn Simmons