Thankful? Grateful? Content? Why yes, I do believe I am, I think to myself as I snuggle into the cushions on my favorite loveseat, curled up in yoga pants and a warm sweater. I hold a mug of hot coffee in one hand, and use the other hand adjust the afghan over my painted toesies, letting it come to rest on my growing belly where I can feel the kicks of a healthy child within. I smile affectionately our obedient, well-napped toddler who is entertaining herself by ‘reading’ a stack of books, and then continue in conversation with my sweet and charming hunk of a hubby.
Oh yes, my heart is full of gratitude at times like that… times I’m comfortable, surrounded by those I love, enjoying sweet blessings.
Of course I know I don’t deserve any of it and that everything I have is a gift from above. I know it all belongs to Him. I also know it’s ok to enjoy these sweet blessings, these undeserved gifts, these cherished relationships. I am grateful, and it’s wonderful when I feel grateful too.
In ALL Circumstances?!
But we are called to “give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thess. 5:18) In all circumstances? I know for a fact that I don’t feel thankful in all circumstances. So that got me thinking about the times when gratitude become hard, and then wondering what it is I can be thankful for during those times. So here are five times that I regularly (daily!) stink at being grateful:
5 Times it’s Hard to Feel Grateful:
- When I’m uncomfortable – Bring on a headache or a stubbed toe and my sweet spirit of thankfulness vanishes. Humidity? I’m a wreck. Hungry?! I become a bear. And most of the time these are the littlest inconveniences I’m talking about. I’m not dealing with real sickness, or battling the elements, or fighting the hunger pangs of starvation.
- When I’m tired – I was going to include this with “uncomfortable,” but decided that “tired” deserved a category all its own. Tiredness reached a whole new level after becoming a mom. There have been nights I was sure I would fall over or pass out with a sick or fussy or just very much awake child. Then there’s the torture of the times you start to drift off to sleep only to be awoken by another cry. In the middle of the night in the middle of that exhaustion, all sense of reason can disappear. Desperation fills the place where gratitude should be.
- When I’m lonely – Loneliness looks different at different times. When I was single, I thought that was the source of my loneliness. Now I’m married to my best friend, but that doesn’t mean I never feel lonely. Sometimes we can be sitting next to each other but feeling far apart. Other times things are great in our relationship, but I’m longing for a friend. Loneliness can come when I’m all alone or when I’m surrounded by people. With much of my family and so many dear friends living far away, loneliness can be real.
- When I compare myself to others – A simple walk through the mall, flip through a magazine, or browse through Pinterest will do it: instantly I remember all of the things I don’t have and forget all that I do have. Where is my grateful heart when I compare my home, my relationships, my abilities, or my body to someone else?
- When things don’t go my way – Need I say more? I’m a really selfish person. I like things to go my way. I like to know what to expect, and I like to have a say in how things should be done and how they should turn out. If circumstances change, things turn out differently than I envisioned, or – oh, heavens! – someone just does something differently than I would have, I feel I have the right to be upset. Be thankful? For this?! Do you see how unfair this is?
The Pollyanna Method
So I’ve identified five major areas when I don’t feel very grateful. What’s next? Well, usually when I remember that I’m supposed to be more thankful than I have been, I employ the Pollyanna method: just find something to be happy about in every situation. Looking at our circumstances for the hidden blessings or silver linings can certainly help use find things to be thankful for, will definitely improve our mood, and will probably lead to greater contentment. And I love sweet little Pollyanna, please don’t get me wrong; but sometimes playing the “glad game” just doesn’t cut it. When life gets hard, like really hard, and you think it can’t get any worse, it actually could get worse. How about that for a downer. But that’s truth, and that’s the danger of looking to our circumstances for the source of our gratitude.
Someone Who Lost it All
A whole book of the Bible tells the story of a man named Job. Here’s a man who had everything, and then lost it ALL. (Job 1) His entire livelihood, property, and fortune were wiped out. Then a house collapses with all ten of his precious children inside, and they are killed. Unimaginable horror. Think it can’t get any worse? It does (Job 2). Job’s good health is taken away from him, and he is left covered in “loathsome boiled from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.” His wife is still around, so maybe we’d begin to say, see, at least he still has her! But she becomes bitter and angry and instead of encouraging Job, tries to bring him down saying, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.”
So what is Job’s response when his circumstances when from bad to horrifyingly worse?
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. (Job 1: 20-22)
The Focus of my Affections
I have to get my eyes off of myself and off of my circumstances, because there will be those days when I can’t see anything to be thankful for. But here is the reason I can give thanks in any, every, and all situations:
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 136:1-3)
You’ve got to take a minute to read that whole chapter, but basically here it is: “His steadfast love endures forever!!” I can be thankful in any circumstance, no matter how I’m feeling, because I know:
- God is God
- He is Good (even if my circumstances aren’t!)
- and His Steadfast Love Endures Forever
And He has shown that love to ME.
God has shown us his love by sending his only Son into the world so that we could have life through him. This is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the payment for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)
Discontented? Want more, newer, nicer stuff? In a nutshell, don’t worry about it… You get Jesus.
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
A Sacrifice of Praise
I will continue to thank God for the blessings around me. I’m thankful now for the salty popcorn I’m snacking on, and the quiet of the afternoon while my daughter naps. I’ll thank God before we enjoy some tasty brats for supper, and will be grateful that we have a perfect September evening to grill out.
But there are times throughout the day (and there may be coming entire days, weeks, or years) when finding something to be thankful for is hard and I don’t feel grateful. It’s in those times that I believe our gratitude to God becomes a sacrifice of praise:
“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me.” (Psalm 50:23)
So regardless of whether we’re feeling comfy, cozy, and grateful, or our hearts are heavy, hurting, and alone, let’s offer up our sacrifices of praise. because no matter what our circumstances are telling us, God is good, and we get Jesus.
Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. (Hebrews 13:15)