Life is plain old hard right now. Cultural and worldly matters aside, I recently moved to a new state, only multiplying the uncertainties and nebulousness of the past year. I need to find a new church, new friends, new places to serve, and get plugged into. It’s been hard to give thanks this year.

I’ve noticed the changes and turmoil of life tempt my thankful heart to turn into a Shrinky Dink. Not that it’s entirely absent, it just doesn’t come as fluidly as I’d like. You, too?

During the holiday season, we’re expected to give. Give money … gifts … time. But did we give thanks, too, as we ought?

We’re called to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). But let’s be real: even when our world isn’t topsy-turvy, we aren’t quick to say “thanks.”

What can you give thanks for this year?

The pandemic has changed many things, but not our call to give thanks. Looking back, there are many things to thank God for, despite the losses we’ve carried. Consider this list of unexpected things I’ve become thankful for in the new year.

What can you add to it?

1. The reach online sermons have allowed.

My previous church recently announced that the current class of new members is the largest they’ve ever seen. Incredibly, through watching the service online, our numbers of committed church partners have grown.

Another church I know of shared their giving has gone up. These are merely two local stories of how God is using the pandemic to expand His Kingdom. We can definitely give thanks for that.

2. Deeper appreciation for a hug.

I went the first two months of the quarantine without a hug. The first time I gave in and nodded my approval to let a friend hug me, it was sheer bliss. We were designed to need physical touch, some of us more than others. Now when someone implies they’re accepting hugs, I don’t take it lightly.

3. Cooking more often.

I know I’m not the only one’s who’s cooking repertoire has flourished this year. My housemate bought me a recipe box to house her family recipes we’ve made. Having more time to spend in the kitchen has expanded my interest in cooking new things. I’m thankful God provided the time and the space to grow this skill.

4. More time with family.

Would your family have seen each other as much had the pandemic not forced it upon you? Maybe you’re laughing at me, “No. And I wouldn’t be complaining about it!” But would you know what’s going on in your spouse’s or child’s world as much as you do if your proximity hadn’t been this confined?

As a single woman living in a different state than my biological family, “more time with my family” in a traditional sense hasn’t been true for me. And yet God provided a way through it all for me to work remotely from my parents’ home for a number of weeks. I give thanks for the welcome and unexpected bonus!

5. Increased awareness of people’s need for Christ

Because of the struggles of this year, we’re hearing numerous stories of people seeking spiritual help online. I stumbled upon a Christianity Today article which shared the rising numbers Christian organizations are watching in their online ministries.

Dark times historically draw people to God and to His salvation, and COVID-19 is no exception. We should thank God for using this darkness for His glory.

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6. Less extracurriculars distracting from time together.

When our schedule slates were wiped clean at the forefront of the pandemic, we were given a gift. We were freed to evaluate: Do I want to keep up the “I’m never home” schedule?

I’m thankful for the reset. I needed to reevaluate the difference between what God wanted me to say “yes” to and what I wanted to say “yes” to.

7. Increased awareness of our need for community.

We’re not all “people” people. Some of us are satisfied with one, maybe two, solid friendships. Others thrive surrounded by friends. Regardless of the end of the spectrum you land on, we’ve all experienced drought in community.

And we all have a new appreciation of being with people. Now, we don’t take it for granted when we’re together with others. For those of us who already valued community, that value is only heightened.

8. The blessing of having a job.

I say this acknowledging that many have lost jobs. A number of my friends experienced part-time furloughs or full-time layoffs due to the stretched economy. I also have friends overloaded with multiple jobs layered upon their existing work due to the same reason.

As someone who hasn’t lost work hours, I’m more thankful than ever to still hold my job. Whichever situation you land in, this season has made us thankful to have a job when we have it, and appreciate it all the more when it’s returned to us.

9. Saving money from limited shopping options.

I’m not much of an online shopper. I have to try it on or see it in person to truly be tempted. Because of this, my wallet has seen a shift for the better! Instead, most weekends have entailed a movie at home and extra time for projects.

While of course I’d prefer the freedom to get out more, I’m thankful for the diminished temptation to spend.

10. More interaction with your neighbors and opportunities for ministry.

I’ll confess: I could grow in the area of neighbor interactions. However, I’ve certainly waved more often to fellow walkers and across the street when neighbors pull into the driveway. Stories of friends inviting neighbors to their driveway for a bonfire and reading Bible stories to the kids encourage me.

A few weeks ago, my own grandma was chatting with her next-door neighbor. By the end of their conversation, they decided to meet every Monday for Bible study. Another thing we can give thanks for this year? That it has opened the door for uncountable ministry opportunities, both online and in person.

What unexpected things have come of 2020 that you can give thanks for this season? How could your prayer life change in the new year if you remember all God has done for you to give thanks for this year?

Copyright © 2020 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Lauren Miller serves on staff with FamilyLife as a writer in Orlando, Florida, though she’ll always be a California girl. She graduated from Biola University and the Torrey Honors College where the Lord first planted in her a love for family and marriage ministry. As a single, she loves serving the youth at her church, watching British dramas, and reading a good book in her free time.