There’s this wonderful tradition built into the tapestry of American culture: Thanksgiving. Every year on the last Thursday in November, Americans gather in families, in groups, with friends, in communities for the sole purpose of expressing thanks. Granted a lot of the gratitude is buried under the gravy and the goodness of green bean casserole and the great mountain ranges of mashed potatoes but still the heart of it remains. This is a country determined to mark their thankfulness with an official holiday to underscore it. I love that!
I’ve spent some time thinking about gratitude recently. What does it look like to be truly grateful? Where does thankfulness come from? How can I cultivate it? Yesterday’s turkey dinner and the joys of family reunited still distract me a little but here are some of my scattered thoughts on thankfulness—
- Each of us has the capacity to be grumblers. It’s easy to complain. It’s easy to commiserate and spiral downward into self-pity. We all have struggles and things we’re up against. Each of us face circumstances we’d like to skirt around. But even as all those things are true, the opposite is also true. We all have so much to be thankful for.
- Being thankful is a choice. We were created with the amazing ability to choose. It was perhaps the most dangerous of decisions our Creator made. Giving us freedom to choose meant we might choose badly, we might choose against our Creator, we might choose self-destruction. But He still chose to give us that gift. And because we have that, we can now choose to be thankful.
- It takes intentionality, effort and practice. Being thankful doesn’t come easily to us. Sometimes I think it’s the hardest work we’re given to do. The Psalmist admits as much when he says, “Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God…” (Psalm 50:14) It’s a sacrifice. It demonstrates our surrender. It takes work.
- Meaningful memes or clever quotes on thanksgiving, while inspiring for two or three minutes, don’t necessarily result in a grateful heart. You have to actually be thankful. And for that to happen you have to stop and consider the gifts you’ve been given and then say that powerful pair of words: thank you!
- One of our core needs as human beings is the longing to be known. Often it translates initially into wanting to be seen. William James says, “The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.” There is nothing worse than feeling invisible, unacknowledged, unappreciated. In a strange way, gratitude is the antidote to this. When someone stops and says thank you to you it affirms that you exist. You have been seen. You matter. One of your longings has been met and there is some healing in that.
”Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”* Like Piglet, we all have the capacity to contain a lot of thankfulness.
My husband Lowell described faith recently as our ‘thank you’ when we receive the grace that God extends to us. If we believe that we are rescued by grace through faith (Eph 2:8)—then grace is the undeserved gift Jesus gives and faith is our heart’s response, our ‘thank you’. Unless we receive the gift of God, unless we respond, unless we say thank you we’ll be stuck in our own befuddlement. Receiving the gift, given freely, ‘just because’, certainly not because of anything we’ve done to deserve it is the humblest most life-changing moment of thankfulness we’ll ever know.
The Apostle Paul exhorts readers in his letter to the Philippians: ”Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7) Honestly laying our hearts out to God, telling him thank you for all that he’s up to allows us to experience a profound peace that’s difficult to understand!
The world is in an abysmal way. The refugee situation in Europe, the ongoing conflict in Syria, the after-effects of Paris and man-hunt in Brussels, the horrendous situation in Mali, the helicopter crash in Kasmir…all of it weighs on the world’s shoulders. It’s too much. The unequal distribution of the world’s resources seems cruel and unjust in times like this. The “why” questions stammer in my soul when they’re not tripping over my tongue. I can’t understand it. I don’t imagine that I ever will.
What I do know is that for whatever undeserved reason I have been tremendously blessed! I am among the lucky few. I have so much: peace and stability, leftovers from yesterday, Netflix and a public library. I will be thankful. I’m determined to approach God with gratitude this holiday season. I want to “Enter his gates with thanksgiving; (and) go into his courts with praise.” (Psalm 100:4) Want to come?