…always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:20)
Do we give thanks for everything? That’s a pretty tall order! In this season of thanksgiving, some of us may not feel all that thankful. I have a wonderful friend who, in an eloquent blog post, expressed his frustration in his own lack of gratitude. Life was hard. Finances were lacking, dreams were unrealized, and it seemed as if everyone else was better off than he was. He wanted to appreciate what he had, but the feelings just weren’t coming.
There are many reasons we can find ourselves struggling to be thankful. In my friend’s case, I could immediately see several areas where some unsolicited advice might help.
Number one was to urge him to get help for his fairly obvious depression. I’ve been clinically depressed, and I can testify that it robs us of our gratefulness. It’s so difficult to see the positive when you’re overwhelmed with the negative. If the world consistently looks bleak, consider that you might be depressed, and ask someone to help you.
Next, my friend kept mentioning how others are better (or worse) off than he is. There is nothing to be gained by comparing ourselves to others. We can always find people who are richer, or poorer, healthier, or less healthy, who have more friends, a better family, or are smarter or nicer or more loving or patient—indeed, any of the infinite ways we differ from one another.
Comparisons lead to covetousness and pride. On the one hand, we end up discouraged and, yes, ungrateful that our life isn’t as good as theirs, and we want what they have. On the other hand, we begin to believe we’re ahead because we’re a better person. We end up proud and self-righteous. Either way, we lose.
We can avoid comparisons by practicing contentment. Merriam-Webster defines “content” as “the state of being happy and satisfied. Dictionary.com describes it as being “satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else.”
To me, contentment is a decision we make. For example, when Pete switched from being a high-tech consultant to starting a tech-related ministry, our income went from “comfortable” to “scraping by.” I quickly realized that I had to let go of my desire to spend money on non-essentials. (Note that God’s definition of non-essential was a bit different from mine!)
The first step was to stop temptation. I turned off the TV. (Consider for a moment how much channels like HGTV contribute to our dissatisfaction with our homes and wardrobes!) I stopped reading magazines that were mostly advertising. The most helpful change I made was to avoid recreational shopping. No more looking in store windows to see what I was missing. And you know, it worked. As long as I focus on what I do have, I don’t brood over what I could have.
Paul summarized this concept well when he wrote:
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:12-13).
Perhaps the most important reason for my friend’s lack of gratefulness is that he doesn’t know who to be grateful to. Being grateful can be described as being “warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received; thankful.” This implies that a kindness or benefit has a source outside of ourselves. If you believe that everything you have is a result of your own hard work, or you consider the universe impersonal and uncaring, it’s hard to cultivate an “attitude of gratitude.” To whom do you give thanks?
Yes, working hard does produce benefits, but I, at least, find that I am blessed far beyond what I merit. Then think about all the things we enjoy, but had no part in producing. For example, I didn’t make a beautiful sunset, but I can be thankful for it because I know God created the universe, and sunsets are part of that creation.
We are thankful to someone specific. I appreciate how many times I have benefited from the hard work of others, especially my husband. Most significantly, I am thankful to God. He has given us so many incredible gifts, I could spend eternity thanking Him for each one.
Footnote: While we’re on the topic of thankfulness, I came across this fun little spoof on being thankful. I think you’ll enjoy it. I did!