children, faith, illness, testimony

Choosing Joy: How an Attitude of Thankfulness Changed My Life

New Years 2013, I asked God to teach me how to be joyful.

Being chronically ill while trying to run a household, homeschool, and manage the multitude of family stresses was causing me to be anything but joyful .

I had always wanted to be a mother. Medically speaking, I might never have had children.

I love the verse where David says God “makes the barren woman to be the joyful mother of children” (Ps 113:9).

I always felt that I should be joyful. (1 Thes 5:16-18)

But I wasn’t. 

What was I missing?

Spring of 2013, I threw myself into the Scripture, to look inside myself at what kept me from being thankful, and to seek advice for becoming a joyful mother.

By a year later, this is what I had learned:


The key to being a joyful mama –no matter what happens– is to focus on being thankful for what God has given me, even if all we can find to be thankful for is a small, insignificant thing.  

Thankfulness takes practice.

It starts with a small spark of light in the heart, and it gradually grows as we fuel it with even the smallest gratitudes our heart feels. 

When fed day after day with thankfulness, that attitude of gratitude begins to change the way we view the world.

When we combine that with an understanding of scripture, an understanding that everything that happens is either ordained by or permitted by God, the end result is joy. (For clarification about everything being either permitted by or ordained by God, please see the story of Job.)

Being thankful for what God has given us –combined with an unshakable faith in His goodness and faithfulness to us– brings peace.


If we want joy, we must choose first to focus on and be grateful for what God has already given us. This joy, based on thankfulness to God for what He has given us, lasts. (John 14:27)

It lasts because it is not based on the uncertain situations of today but on looking to Jesus, our loving Provider (Matt 6:25-29).

As we focus on what He has already done to care for us, we find comfort knowing that He will continue to provide for us. This bring a joy and a peace that no one can take away.  


Later, I realised that I have the power to take my own joy away.

Though I have been thanking the Lord for what I have, I am often not content with His gifts.

This steals my joy away, undoing all my hard work at being thankful.

It is one thing to say “I am glad you gave me this, Lord.” It is yet another thing to say “Lord, I wouldn’t trade this for anything else.”

The Scripture says “…godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim 6:6).

Now that I know where joy comes from (a thankful heart), I am seeking to not undo joy with my own selfish discontentment.

It all comes back to covetousness. If it’s not desiring what someone else has specifically, it’s wanting what I think I ought to have (Rom 9:20-21).


All this is a result of questioning God’s wisdom in what He has given me (either permitted or ordained).

I must choose to trust that He knows what He is doing with my life.

If I truly believe that He is had my best interest in mind when He has a plan for my life and is leading me (Ps 37:23), that all will work out for good (Rom 8:28), and that my days were known and planned before I was born (Ps 139:16), I should trust Him and not wish things were different.

But I struggle with doubt and must daily remind myself why I am here and who He is, that He is faithful (2 Tim 2:13).

Now that I have found my the source of joy, I am working to not  cut myself off from it.


Truly, God is still working on me. I’m looking forward to seeing how the future brings me closer to Him, how He continues to mold me into His image.

The above paragraphs were written for a Facebook post nearly 3 years ago. I am just amazed how much the Lord has changed me since then, how much this idea of being thankful for what I have –even if it is less than what others have, even if it is less than I think in my selfishness that I deserve– has changed me.

This heart of thankfulness has morphed over time into me even being thankful for my illness.

By November of 2014, my thankfulness and trust in God had developed enough that I was able to be thankful even for some of the more unpleasant things in my life:

As frustrating as it can be to have a chronic illness, I am actually thankful for my illness, because it is making me more like Jesus. It has taken me years to get to a place where I was thankful.

But what a change has been made in my life!

God has used it to mold and shape me. Like King David, the Lord has crushed me (Psalm 51:8) so that He may heal me in His time, if not now then in eternity.

If Jesus was made perfect through suffering (Hebrews 2:10) why do we think God would ask anything less of us? If we want to be like Jesus we have to be willing to follow in His footsteps which includes suffering (1 Peter 2:21).

So often we say that we want to be like Jesus, but we don’t want to walk the path and endure the pain that will make us more like Him.

Years later, I can look back on these paragraphs and know just how much God has changed me through choosing to be thankful and seeking joy in whatever situation I am in (Phil 4:11).  

The end result has been peace (Phil 4:7). I didn’t understand before that choosing to be thankful would bring joy and that eventually that would bring me peace and hope, but it has (Rom 15:3). I didn’t understand that they all work together and are connected (Phil 4:4-7).

I encourage you to start to be thankful even for small, insignificant things. Watch the Lord change your life and outlook when you adopt an attitude of gratitude.


Sarah Forbes


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