Grasping Gratitude

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:18 by Qiana Woodard

I’m sure we’ve all heard the saying “Life is full of choices” several times over the course of our lives. I would even take it a step further and say that life is all about the choices we make. We have been blessed with the gift of free will, and it allows us to make thousands of decisions every day. In fact, studies suggest that every adult makes roughly 35,000 decisions per day. Those choices—some significant and some not—all have real, tangible consequences. 

Here’s an example. Every time I go to the grocery store, it is a must that I visit the bakery section. I love all types of pastry sweets. However, during my last grocery store visit, when I made my typical stroll through the baked goods section, I managed to leave the area without putting a single item in my cart. I would categorize this decision as a significant one because I absolutely love baked goods! In recent months, I have been trying to make healthier choices pertaining to my diet and to be more mindful of my sugar intake. So, although I wasn’t able to avoid the bakery section altogether, my willpower overrode my cravings and nothing ended up in the grocery cart. In terms of choices, this was a huge win for me. 

Yet I am faced with other tough choices every day, and I don’t always “win” when it comes to one tough one in particular. I am talking about gratitude.

Without question, I am abundantly blessed. But that just doesn’t feel good enough because I don’t have everything I want. I know I could feel truly blessed by God if He would just grant me everything that I want. Right? Why is it that we tend to focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do have? We focus more on what isn’t going well and what we constantly want to change. Why the perpetual lens of discontentment? Or this relentless pursuit of comfort or state of being where all needs are met?

I meet new people all of the time and enjoy engaging in substantive conversations with most of them. From these encounters, I have observed that I am not alone in looking at my circumstances as  “almost there,” as if contentment was just around the corner. In recent years, I have been grappling with my overemphasis and analysis of what I don’t have. And it goes beyond that. I find myself devising plans and schemes for how I am going to get those things that I lack. In addition to my strategic “planning,” I’m even bold enough to put deadlines on some of these deficiencies.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a complete ingrate. I graciously and intentionally thank God when He answers one of my prayers. I like to compare myself to the sole leper who went back to say, “thanks a bunch, Lord” for the answered supplication (Luke 17:11-19). But I don’t tend to stay very long in that place of gratitude and contemplation of His goodness. I have so much that I want Him to “do” for me that I just keep chugging away at “my” to-do list.   

As this Thanksgiving holiday approaches, it’s the perfect time to stop and reflect. When was the last time we truly paused to ponder and give praise for an answered prayer? Have we truly been giving God the thanks that He so rightfully deserves for considering our sinful selves worthy of a “yes” as often as He has? What’s wrong with our thanks? When did it get so lazy? So dismissive? So presumptive? Has it become tied to what He does rather than who He is? Is our memory so short when it comes to His goodness that we are more like the Israelites post-exodus than the one leper? When I stop to think about these questions, and about all that God has done for me, I am both confounded and convicted. If I sat down today and started writing a list of all of the ways that He has blessed me thus far in my life, I would be writing for days. Wouldn’t you? 

 No matter what happens in life, one of the best choices we can make every single day is to demonstrate gratitude. A thankful heart keeps us focused on what God is doing in our lives instead of what we personally want to achieve or obtain. Thankfulness is a profound display of obedience and honor to His Sovereignty and our complete trust in Him. 

This Thanksgiving, I encourage you to be thankful in all things and in all circumstances—the good and the bad. Scripture encourages us to “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We don’t always need to analyze a situation, overemphasize a lack or try to fix a problem. We just need to say, “Thank you, Father, for being who You are. I trust You with my whole life.” The more we say that, the more our minds shift toward God and who He is, and the more our gratitude aligns with His grace and His goodness.

Qiana Woodard, PhD, of Deerfield, IL, is an author with leadership experience in ministry and nonprofit, business and educational organizations.

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