Living with a Gratitude Attitude
I know a woman who has had her share of troubles recently – serious health issues plus a betrayal and divorce. When we prayed together and I invited her to express thanksgiving, she had nothing to say. Nothing.
Her body is healing; her new home is beautiful; she has known Jesus most of her life; she gets to wake up every morning to breathe the crisp fall air of east Tenn. – and yet she honestly couldn’t think of one thing to be grateful for. After reflection and further conversation, I became keenly aware that when there is no gratitude, there is no purpose – no hope.
Conscientious parents teach their children to say “thank you” and to mean it. But spiritual gratitude is more than making a mental note of things God has done for us and then thanking God for favors received.
Thomas Merton says that gratitude is all about grace:
“To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything God has given us – and He has given us everything! Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a gift of grace…
Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.”
We are grateful when we realize that we have been given something undeserved, grace. Gratitude is in the heart and thanksgiving is an expression of it, in words and in how we live our lives. Gratefulness turns into thankfulness; gratitude transforms into praise. With it we become more attentive and mindful of our surroundings.
When we gather together around the communion table, we come in response to God’s grace – in gratitude for the undeserved gift of salvation manifested in the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ. Eucharist actually means “thanksgiving.” Sharing in the Lord’s Supper is the ultimate Thanksgiving feast.
To illustrate biblical examples of Christ expressing gratitude, imagine yourself in these two situations:
What would you have done if the disciples had come to you asking, “Where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed over 5000 hungry people?” I probably would have first complained that I had so little to feed so many. Then I may have hastily organized search teams to go find food, or given up and sent the people home, or at best, prayed for a miracle.
Do you remember what Jesus did?
“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked. “Seven,” they replied.
He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people,…. (Mark 8:6)
Jesus simply thanked God for what He already had and didn’t worry about what he didn’t have. Then He left the results up to God.
Do you remember what Jesus did when he arrived at his friend, Lazarus’ tomb?
After the stone was rolled away, releasing the awful stench of death, again Jesus simply said “Thank you!”
Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.…” (John 11:41)
Jesus trusted His Father and felt no need or desire to control what happened.
Jesus was free to simply lift his heart and voice to God in thanksgiving:
“Thanks if Lazarus is raised from the dead and we leave rejoicing.
Thanks if he remains dead and we leave here sorrowful.”
“Thanks if You choose to feed all these people. Thanks if we all go home hungry. Thanks that Your will is accomplished. Thanks.”
Expressions of honest complaint, anger, doubts, and longing are necessary in a healthy relationship with God. Lament psalms express such feelings and open a path for God to heal our broken hearts, our sin. And gratitude is much more authentic when it comes – and it will eventually come for all of us, including my depressed friend.
During this season before our Thanksgiving holiday, consider how you can practice living a more grateful life.
List 5 things you are grateful for each day. People who did this last year were surprised to see how the practice caused them to pay more attention, to be more aware of God’s blessings all around them. You may want to read Ann Voskamp’s life-changing experience with this in her book, One Thousand Gifts.
You might also try writing your own psalm of gratitude. There are some aids available for you here.
“Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God.”