The Art of Gratitude
What does a grateful person look like? Can you spot them in a crowd? Does a grateful person live out a life in constant thanksgiving? How can I embody a person with a heart of gratitude? Do I have people in my inner circle who possess the traits of a person living a grateful life? Can I be this for the people dear to me? These are a few of the questions I have been pondering this week as I prepared to post this blog about the art of gratitude.
Thanksgiving in 2020
As Thanksgiving 2020 approaches amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic, racial tensions, a heated election cycle, and daily distance learning for our students how do I wrap my head around the upcoming Holiday season? Not only dealing with the umbrella of pressure the year 2020 has brought all of us there are personal situations specific to each person. Some of us are dealing with the crisis of aging parents or mounting debt. Others are dealing with unexpected job cuts or unemployment.
Many of us have loved ones affected by cancer, addiction, broken marriages, wayward children, and a myriad of other life-draining circumstances which can not only rob us of our joy but deprive us of our grateful hearts. How do we embrace the art of gratitude? What practical steps can we adopt to flourish with the art of gratitude?
One Step Toward Gratitude
First, we look to the Word of God. We seek to understand the beauty of living a life grateful to God for everything. When I write everything, I mean…. everything. We are people who possess the art of gratitude for the hardships, trials, and deep pain which life can bring us. People who can find themselves embracing the sweet, as well as the bitter, are the people we gravitate toward. People who fully embrace the art of gratitude. The people I am referring to are our teachers, pastors, dentists, produce grocery clerks.
They are our friends and can be mentors and guides to us. These are people who have walked through some dark valleys but have learned to lean into the hurt and come out stronger on the other side with wisdom and joy. Scripture says in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Scripture does not say in only the best of times rejoice; the Bible teaches in ALL times we are to rejoice. And friends, this is a tall feat, but it is our calling as followers of Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Why Verses the How
Practically speaking the why is easy, but how we rejoice always feels a bit more of a challenge to achieve. How do we live out our mission to find joy in all circumstances? When the water heater floods the garage or when the check engine light comes on. How about when the paycheck does not cover the expenses? Or when our expectations we set for others or ourselves are not met. When we carry fear and regret.
There are dozens of circumstances which compete to strip us of joy. When our disappointment and depression are palpable, we become heavy laden. If the burdens, we carry are so heavy we can become literally weighed down. We find ourselves under the covers of our beds with no motivation to get up and live out joy.
Hard to See the Silver Lining
When this frame of existence goes on for a period of time, we can become so worn out. It becomes a challenge to even imagine looking for a silver lining to make sense of our circumstances. Paul elegantly states in his letter to the Philippians (4:12-13) “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Therefore, God calls us to live beyond our circumstances to trust in the beauty of HIS word, The Psalmist says in Psalm 103:2-5 “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s”
Being Grateful Even for the Scars
It is no secret my family of origin was troubled by both substance and alcohol abuse. My sisters and I suffered varying degrees of child abuse. The scars from my own youth are extremely deep. Years of counseling, journaling, and self-care were definitely a part of my healing. But being transparent and authentic the true healing happened the moment I accepted the pain and injury of my brokenness and was grateful for it. WHAT? Grateful for the abuse? Thankful for the abandonment, malnutrition, physical and sexual abuse, neglect, terror, loss, and heartache, the answer is yes!
Do I mourn the life I could have lived? Yes, in fact, I do grieve for the little girl who was mistreated who grew into a misguided young adult. The girl who in turn grew into a woman with poor self-esteem, non-existent value, and a feeling of very little worth. I hurt now typing these words onto the screen, but there is joy in the circumstances. The pure joy comes in knowing my trials have produced perseverance. From my perseverance, my faith grew, and in the growing of my faith, my life became easier. I do not mean easier as if all trouble evaporated, I still had struggles and hardships. But ones which did not stem from my own self-destructive behaviors. My faith sustained me, and I began a life pursuing God’s purpose and design for myself. James 1:2-4 instructs us this “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.”
Pursuing God’s Design
And so, in my pursuit of being all God created me to be, I began to step out in my faith. Opening my heart and home to opportunities to help whoever God brought across my steps. My desire to become a person who honored God began by saying yes to His pressing. I wanted my life to point to the gospel of Christ in all I did. In my heart I needed to understand I was a new creation in Christ. Once I accepted my B.C (before Christ) life was the roadmap which brought me to my knees at the cross; I could finally understand HIS grace was what provided the roadmap in the first place.
At the point when I realized, the Holy Spirit resided in my soul I promised myself every breath I take until my last will be spent serving Kingdom work in some shape or form. Paul encourages the church in Corinth in his letter 2 Corinthians 4:15-16 “For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” In my own renewing, I can learn daily to flourish with the art of gratitude.
It All Comes Back to Gratitude
In gratitude, I embrace each day as an opportunity to seek joy and live out a heart of appreciation for my own walk with God. Coveting the life of another person will only leave me weary and envious. If my heart yearns for a bigger house, a more expensive car, a spouse who meets my every whim I deprive God of revealing His good and loving plans for me. He is righteous and sovereign. Romans 8:28 tells us “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
As we approach the Holiday season let us consider the how of exhibiting gratefulness for all circumstances. Begin each morning recognizing Lamentations 3:21 “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lords’ great love we are not consumed for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion therefore I will wait for him.” Embrace the bitter and the sweet. Accept the hardships and trials. Hold onto hope. Seize reconciliation. Let go of disappointment and like an artist with a fresh canvas of thankfulness live out a life of complete and utter gratitude.
What are some of the hard points in your life which were God’s roadmap for you?
Looking back can you see your way to the gratitude for even the painful things you faced?
Who in you life can help you along the way to practicing the art of gratitude? Or who can you help?
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