The coolest people I know have gratitude in them. My mom is like that. You see it in the way she treats the paper boy and you can hear it in her prayers. She’s full of it and it spills out of her at random moments, like a person trying to run with a cup of cocoa.
One of the ugliest attitudes in the human spirit is ingratitude. It’s an easy default mode, fed by our sense of entitlement. Our self-centeredness conspires with our tendency to overlook blessings and gifts, and a million graces go by unnoted. We take life for granted and thankfulness remains unexpressed in our souls until it dries up, like a ring of brown residue in the bottom of an empty mug.
When I first got my iPhone I asked Siri, “What are you thankful for?” She said, “I have no idea.” How sad.
The Bible has well over 100 different places where it talks about thanks, and looking through them it dawned on me that there are different kinds of thanks, depending on the circumstances. In the Bible, what’s going on in your life, and what’s going on with you and God and others doesn’t determine WHETHER OR NOT you give thanks, but it does determine WHAT KIND of thanks you give. In scripture there is a lot of what seems like HAPPY THANKS. This is the kind we most often connect with Thanksgiving holiday. You think of some blessing, and say THANK YOU, GOD!
comes from the heart
The Bible has a whole lot of happy songs you can use to be your own song of happy thanks, like Psalm 118: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. … I thank you for answering my prayer.” Sometimes your mind floods with reasons to thank God. You feel the sun shining in your life in many ways.
You say Thank you, Lord, for this house, this food, this family. You escape the downsizing at work. The pathology report comes back negative and you don’t have cancer. You make the team, or get accepted at the school you wanted, or are baptized and feel on top of the world. You enjoy another Thanksgiving with aging parents and are grateful. Or as you sit in your living room, a grandchild plays at your feet and you are overwhelmed at the goodness of God. The color of leaves, the song of a bird, bodies that run, milkshakes and a pot of chili and good music and an email from a friend all become reasons for happy thanks.
As you gather with family or friends this week, take turns saying out loud some of what you’re thankful for – those things that easily come to mind. And while you’re at it, tell someone other than God thanks, too. Write a short note, or drop them a text or Facebook message to tell them you thank God for them.
I’ve also noticed that scripture is loaded with what you could call HARD THANKS. This is for those times when life isn’t going so well. Like trying to force a non-compliant child to say, “I’m sorry”, when life is difficult, hard thanks
doesn’t come easily
doesn’t come naturally
comes from the head – out of a decision you make to be thankful, even though things are rough.
My sister-in-law Lynette served Jesus in the Dominican Republic, in the corner up near Haiti. By most American standards her life was hard, simple, unglamorous. They had bugs in their house. There were problems with the water and electricity. But she loved a particular verse of scripture from 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances.” And that is what she did.
When gratitude doesn’t flow naturally from your heart, you need to decide in your mind to be thankful anyway. Sometimes all you have is hard thanks.
I don’t know what kind of year this has been for you. If you’re like me you can list some reasons you have for feeling sad or ungrateful. Maybe there is darkness or grey in your life. Your job is eliminated. The pathology report is not favorable. You feel spiritually dry, or your heart stings from a loss you’ve experienced. Or maybe it’s 50-50. You know you have some things to be thankful for; but there is also some stuff that’s hard.
That’s a time for hard thanks. You don’t’ have to wait for good things to happen in order for you to be thankful. Being truly thankful inside often comes as a result of expressing thanks. And anyone can decide to do that. Being grateful isn’t really about what’s happening in your life at all. It’s totally, 100% in your head. You decide.
That’s why people with so much can be spoiled and think they have it rough. And people with nothing can say, “Thank you, Lord!”
What kind of year has it been for you? Is it a time for happy thanks or hard thanks? When our family gathers, we take turns going around, and everyone can say a happy thanks or a hard thanks. Why don’t you do that this year? Either way, give thanks. It feels good, heals your heart, God deserves it, and it will make you a more beautiful person.