How to Be Thankful When You Don’t Feel Thankful

Every time I slid behind the wheel of my cheerful yellow car, I gave thanks. The Lord had provided this used car at an affordable price just in time for a cross-country trip. It was perfect for hauling my toddler and preschooler and a direct answer to prayer. That’s why I couldn’t understand why I had to lose it.

My husband, Larry, and I spent a month on a mission trip in Eastern Europe. The experience filled our hearts and emptied our pocketbooks. Our mission organization required us to raise money for our salary and the trip. Donations came in designated for the trip, however, we returned to short paychecks. We realized some donors had diverted their regular support for our trip, not added to it.

Larry’s elderly grandfather passed away, and Larry’s parents offered us his 1973 green Buick La Sabre. Since Granddad’s car wouldn’t sell for much, Larry decided to sell my car to solve our financial shortfall. The green giant had baked in the hot Arizona heat during Granddad’s decline. Rust spots showed through oxidized paint, the vinyl roof peeled like a bad sunburn, and the dingy interior recalled Granddad’s years of smoking.

Larry and I worked with high school students in one of the wealthiest areas in the country. Their up-to-date sports cars highlighted our rundown vehicle. Our church parking lot gleamed with polished Mercedes and BMWs.

One day, a young man helping me carry my groceries said, “Let me guess which car you drive.” He pointed out cars I wished I could claim. Reluctantly, I pointed to the green dinosaur. “Oh. I like vintage cars,” he said politely.

The car was also unreliable.

One morning it stalled on at a busy eight-lane intersection with my children in their car seats. The kind stranger in the next lane saw our predicament and motioned for us to join her.

A friend secretly had the car painted and installed a new vinyl roof to surprise Larry. Our dated monstrosity sported a fresh exterior. But it was not the sporty yellow car I missed.

I pondered my disappointment that night after carpooling students from Bible Study. I sensed the Lord interrupt my thoughts. Debbie, have you thanked Me for this car?

How can I thank You when I am not thankful?

Scripture filled my thoughts. “Give thanks in all circumstances… “(1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV). “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose,” (Romans 8:28, NASB).

To refuse to give thanks now would be blatant disobedience. Oh Lord, You know how I feel about this car. How can you ask me to be thankful?

The pressure persisted. “Lord, I do not feel thankful. This car is ugly and has caused me inconvenience and humiliation.” I took a deep breath and went on. “But if you insist—THANK YOU; thank you for knowing my needs. Thank you that this is your will for me now. And thank you that you will use this for my good.”

Although I did not wake up to a new car, I did wake up to a new attitude.

My grudge and self-consciousness vanished. The car stopped breaking down—maybe because we had replaced every hose and valve, or maybe because of God’s grace.

The next year we left sunny California and moved to northern Indiana. The green giant’s spacious interior and smooth ride provided a delightful trip. It started every morning in the below freezing temperatures with the first crank. Its heater never failed. While fellow seminarians worried about how the salted roads would tarnish their cars, we had no concerns.

The car became a great blessing and moved us to Oklahoma where we finally sold it. This unwanted gift taught me a valuable lesson in the art of giving thanks. It’s not hypocritical to thank God before you feel thankful. Giving thanks is about trusting God, and God really does work all things together for the good of His children.

It’s not hypocritical to thank God before you feel thankful. Giving thanks is about trusting God, and God really does work all things together for the good of His children. #thankful Share on X

What have you learned about giving thanks?



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This post was originally posted as “When Thank You is the Last Thing We Want to Say” – November 26, 2018 at

Photo by Etienne Desclides on Unsplash

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  1. Pam Ecrement

    This is a powerful story that likely pricks us all about something at some point in our lives….it does me. My parents were always very practical with gifts. My mother was gifted at sewing and most Christmases growing up I would receive a gift box with several yards of a very nice fabric under the tree. She would then make that into a dress I would wear for Easter. I was not very thankful despite the fabric being always of excellent quality. When all my peers and I got back from Christmas break and started asking and sharing what we got for Christmas I told about this gift and they all talked about exciting stuff that was a lot more fun. My gratitude was nil. Unfortunately, it would be quite a few years later until I began to see that.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Pam, I can’t imagine my kids remarks if I had given them fabric! I sewed for them when they were young. And it is a gift. But I don’t think kids understand. Thanks so much for sharing your story. Gratitude often is an act of faith and worship because somethings we truly can’t appreciate from our perspective and have to trust that the giver, Jesus, knows best.

  2. Ann Musico

    What a wonderful story and a great reminder, Debbie. There is a need I have been praying for for several years now. I know it is completed and I am waiting to see the manifestation and over a year ago God prompted me to just thank Him it is done. So that is what I do daily and whenever it comes to mind. I know thankfulness is very powerful!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Ann, that’s a beautiful encouragement to us all. I want to practice that more. Thank you, dear friend.

  3. Melissa Henderson

    My latest blog post shares how a series of stressful things happened last week. During that time, I began laughing as each new bothersome event happened. I knew the Lord was giving me lessons through each experience. I started out grouchy but turned to laughter. 🙂

    • Debbie Wilson

      Melissa, you have such a gift for that. I always enjoy your blogs. Thanks for sharing today.

  4. J.D. Wininger

    Amen! Ms. Debbie. Wonderful lesson ma’am. “Giving thanks often brings about a thankful spirit.” Great post!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thank you, J. D. Sometimes we must obey before the feelings follow.

  5. sue

    A great story where we’ve all been – thanks, Debbie and I need a daily reminder to be thankful in all things, even when a little unthankful!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Me too, Sue. 🙂 Thanks for reading.

  6. Susan Shipe

    Debbie, I could relate to this in so many ways. That attitude thing is HUGE. Contentment is one of the hardest places to get to – I cannot tell you the struggles I have had and had to overcome. This Christian life is not for the faint of heart, is it?

    • Debbie Wilson

      It certainly isn’t, Susan! Some days it is a minute by minute choice. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Rebecca Jones

    I remember always thanking Him even in some difficult times for what He had done and would do. But I have complained about having to borrow a car, even if my mother never minded. I’ll fix that.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Rebecca, when we get to heaven and can see God’s plan clearly I’m sure we’ll feel silly over the things we complained about. At least, I’m sure I will. Thanks for sharing.

  8. April Schwarz

    As I was reading this post I kept thinking “Okay God what do I need to say thank you for that I have not felt thankful for.” Thank you for this post and speaking to my heart.

    • Debbie Wilson

      April, that is a wonderful application I need to think about every day.

  9. Joshua J Masters

    Giving thanks is about trusting God. That’s so true, and I appreciate how you’ve reminded us to express gratitude even when we don’t feel like it. Thanks so much for sharing this.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thank you, Joshua.

  10. Calleen Petersen

    I LOVE this! It is making me re-examine a few things in my life that I should be giving thanks for.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thanks, Calleen.

  11. Gretchen Fleming

    What a delightful post, Debbie! I love a good story because it is so easy to learn from the examples of others. You shared some great perspective and truth here today. Well done and thank you!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thank you, Gretchen. This story was a good reminder for me as well.

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