As a dad part of my job is teaching my children to mind their manners. From the time that they were knee-high to a grasshopper, I would ask in sing-songy voice, “What do you say?” trying to get them to say please and thank you; however, while I can teach my kids to say thank you, and they are generally pretty good at that, I can’t make gratitude settle into their soul. As a parent this is the thing I really want. I think it would be terrible if my kids learned to say thank you and be well-mannered, but they never learned to be thankful.
Gratitude is much more than parroting the words thank you when someone holds a door for you (or yelling, “thank you” at those that they fail to say it after you held it for them). Gratitude is a deep sense that what we have, and all that we have, is a gift. It is looking at our circumstances and seeing the good and being thankful.
Cognitive Psychologist, Daniel Levitin tells us, “Gratitude causes us to focus on what’s good about our lives rather than what’s bad, shifting our outlook toward the positive.” He goes on to say that those of us who are grateful, feel happier, feel motivated toward generosity and compassion, and have a greater capacity for positive emotions and pleasure, because being grateful alters our brain chemistry. The grateful cross-examine whatever life throws at them, and look to see where the gift in it is and it frees them to enjoy all the blessings of God
Learning to see the gifts in life doesn’t mean pretending that everything is great. Bad stuff happens and pretending otherwise is not healthy. We go through hard things—we get sick, we have relational problems, we lose jobs, we struggle to keep our anxiety at bay during a global pandemic. These things are terrible, and I don’t think they are ‘gifts’ in the sense that God is giving them to us just to mess us up. But I do think that part of the spiritual life is learning to see God’s gifts for us in the midst of whatever we may be going through. We don’t have to say that any of the bad things that happens to us are gifts, but when we have eyes to see, we see God’s generous care for us amidst life’s difficulties. The Apostle Paul tells us to rejoice in all things and to come to God with thanksgiving when we find ourselves in dire straits:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4–7, NRSV)
What I want for my kids, I want for myself is to be a thankful person who doesn’t focus so much on the problems, but on where I’ve seen God’s provision and care. How do we learn thankfulness? It starts with learning to say thank you, the way we train our children to say it. But we learn gratitude by examining our life (even the bad stuff) with an eye for what is a gift. Counting our blessings, we see that even when life seems terrible, God is at work.
I am so grateful for this church, for the privilege of journeying with you as your pastor and look forward to seeing all the things God has in store for us together. Happy Thanksgiving!