I have found that life’s dictionary is missing something. It lacks the word “should.”

We say “should” many times. People should adore me (after all, what is there not to love?). I should get the job I want or the raise I deserve.

And then daily life says, “I’m sorry. What does “should” mean?”

Life teaches its best lessons in the worst ways.

My first ministry experience was like getting your hand caught in a hamburger grinder. A family church made decisions impossible. Family troubles spilled over into the church. A visit from a lawyer made me forced me to find feigned courage as I opposed his manipulation. The Lord kept me humble, and the church kept me poor. (And that’s not just a saying, but an experience.) I twisted on a political string without enough experience to navigate it.

But over time, I picked myself up when beaten down. Each experience was another homework assignment stuffed into my “learn this” folder. I learned what to say and not to say.

I hated every minute of it but am grateful for the experience. I grew tougher. I learned resilience and living one day at a time. Without it, I could not last in ministry for over 47 years.

If you want to have joy, remember a single idea. We can be thankful in the worst of circumstances as long as we cannot forget what it did for us rather than to us.

We survive bumps and bruises, learning to walk. The scars of unloving criticism still litter our souls. But we learned. Lean checkbooks taught us to plan ahead and don’t spend too much.

In them, we can thank God for the lessons.

James said:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2–4, ESV)

How can you give thanks for tough times? It is a fire that refines rather than an inferno that destroys. It patiently works to create inner strength for more significant battles.

Yet, we can only see it in gratitude rather than awareness during the moment. Giving God thanks for the tough times prepares us to live through even more difficult ones. It is a cycle of enduring, reflecting, and giving thanks that makes bitter times manageable.

So look at your life and see the good in the bad, as Corrie Ten Boom did.

Corrie was a young girl when she and her sister were shipped off to a Nazi concentration camp. At an age far too young, she encountered deprivation and death.

One of the great nuisances was fleas. They flooded the crowded barracks and chewed on what little flesh they had. Their misery compounded.

But Corrie noticed something. Many in the barracks would die, and the fleas left them alone. They only feasted on the living.

It changed her perspective. She realized that as long as she had fleas, she was alive.

From that moment, her daily prayers included the phrase, “Thank God for the fleas.”

Stop for a moment and thank God for your own fleas.