How to Embrace Gratitude
At our family’s annual Christmas Eve celebration, my nieces and nephews would race to the Christmas tree and count the gifts addressed to them. Then they would quickly calculate how many gifts their cousins had to ensure they had as many. Even as adults we tend to constantly measure what we have in comparison to others. With maturity we recognize the number of gifts received is much less important than the intention and thoughtfulness of the gift giver.
God is our divine gift giver; always giving us exactly what we need, when we need it. His gifts always fit, even if we have to grow (spiritually) into them.
Challenging experiences often provide wisdom in their wake, arming us with newfound strength. It seems counter-intuitive but feeling grateful for our joys and difficulties puts us in the right mindset to become open to God’s plans for us. God wants us to live in His abundance, not the world’s abundance. Being grateful for everything – even hardships – opens our hearts to understand what God is preparing us for.
In struggles, our faith is put to the test. Our first instinct may be pity, anger, or frustration…”Why did this happen to me?” “How can I ever get through this?” Even if we are mature enough to understand that the bad times won’t last, it is difficult to see beyond our current pain. If we can view the struggle as a stepping stone in growing closer to God and becoming more like him, we actually appreciate the obstacle in our path. Would you like to change your whole perspective? Whether we are just encountering Christ or searching for a deepening relationship with him, gratitude can enrich your experience.
Accept the challenge to focus on God through gratitude, accepting and acknowledging the gifts he gives you. It is not natural to always feel gratitude; it is a choice and it takes practice. In challenging times, we often feel anything but grateful. But the more we train ourselves to see the good in everything, the more accessible it will become and the realization of how blessed we are will open up to us.
With gratitude, we become fully engaged in the present, in what is important right now. We give ourselves permission to experience God’s grace in the moment. It could be the songs of birds as they swoop and soar overhead, the laugh of a baby, or just the fact that we woke up in good health.
When we choose gratitude, we are really thanking and rejoicing in God. In this rejoicing, we let go of all needless worry and unfruitful comparison to others. Throughout the Bible, we are reminded of how gratitude is an essential part of living in communion with God.
“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.” Philippians 4: 4-6
Living in gratitude does not stop you from experiencing disappointment and sadness; that too is part of being human. Gratefulness is your weapon against disappointment or sadness tightening their grip on you, trapping you in hopelessness. Studies have shown that people who practice gratitude are better equipped to handle times of stress, disappointment and tragedy we will all experience.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1: 2–4
It may not always be clear, but God created us on purpose, for His purpose. Gratitude for being formed exactly as we are – body, soul, and mind – is the ultimate expression of faith. It is the best gift we have been given. And the gift we give in return is to put this faith into action and develop our gifts for the purpose God provided them.
Today, wherever you are in your faith journey, make a concerted effort to try on the lens of gratitude. Keep in mind it is a conscious attitude shift; a choice to see the good all around you that grows over time. If, like my nieces and nephews, you spend your time calculating how many gifts you have compared to others, you miss the very heart of gift giving – the joy the divine gift giver has in caring for you.
Do you want to live fearlessly and open yourself to God’s purpose for you right here, right now? In our next article, we will discover how gratitude prepares us to enter into the mystery of God’s love for us and reflect that love to others by living our purpose even as the journey twists and turns throughout our life.