Last Thursday, people all over the country went through torture.
It may have happened at your Thanksgiving dinner. The food is on the table, and everyone is starving. Then, the host utters those dreaded words: “Let’s all say one thing we are thankful for.” Kids groan, and adults struggle to think of something good enough to say in public.
Why is giving thanks so hard? Should being thankful on purpose only happen on Thanksgiving?
We can change that. Because thankfulness is something we are given, but also something we do.
Why Thankfulness is Important
Why is being thankful on purpose important?
- It’s a natural part of our life journey – As we mature beyond an obsession with self to a healthy focus on God and others, being thankful becomes a key step along that journey.
- God deserves our thanks – God is surely worthy of our gratitude, so it’s natural to express thanks to him. Plus, thankfulness is part of God’s will, which makes it a matter of obedience.
- It’s how God relates with us – Most religions assert that we earn God’s favor by what we do, but Jesus showed that God’s grace is free. Our role is to accept that gift with thankfulness.
- It helps us treat others better – When we stop focusing on ourselves, we develop empathy and compassion for others, and becoming thankful is a key part of that process.
- To ease effects of shame – Shame can come from unhealthy comparisons, perceptions, and expectations, but being thankful moves us away from playing the victim to a posture of faith.
- We will feel better – When we do things God’s way, we feel better. Try it with thankfulness. Choose to become more thankful, and you will experience more contentment and serenity.
Too often, we yearn for what we don’t have, leaving us in perpetual angst and unhappiness. Why not focus on what we do have instead? Because thankfulness is a choice.
The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy. (Henri Nouwen in “Being Intentionally Grateful” by Richard E. Simmons III)
Our Journey to Thankfulness
I am not a naturally thankful person.
But, I do feel thankful now, sometimes deeply and passionately so, for many things large and small. How did that happen with someone as self-centered as me?
I surely didn’t get there on my own. God taught me, slowly and surely, how to be more thankful.
Over time, God also helped me develop empathy. Earlier in life, I didn’t consider myself indifferent or insensitive, but I acted that way at times. It was a natural by-product of thinking mostly about myself. God showed me that if we work at it, we can be intentional on becoming more empathetic.
Looking back, it is clear where much of my thankfulness came from: my toughest times! Trials are when we develop perspective of what life is really all about. When our faith is stretched, we grow the most, and we can develop a depth of appreciation we would not achieve otherwise.
Most of us are simply not as thankful as we should be; it seems to be something we have to grow into. If we are willing, God will teach us to be grateful, but is it something we must choose to learn.
Thanksgiving begins with the recognition of who really deserves the credit and glory for what we do. It is most pleasing to God, but it also does something to us. It is life-giving and transformative. (“Being Intentionally Grateful” by Richard E. Simmons III)
Being Thankful on Purpose
We can be intentional about becoming more thankful if we choose to:
- During our morning quiet time, we can develop the discipline to count our blessings and write them down. And we can pray for God to make us more thankful, at least for today.
- Being thankful includes sharing our gratefulness. We can appreciate others more often with something as simple as a verbal “thank you” or a more involved expression such as a note.
- We can dwell on negative perceptions (what we should have), expectations (what we feel we deserve), and comparisons (what other people have), or we can learn to let those feelings go.
- There is often much good that comes from trials. God does his best work in our toughest circumstances, and we can develop a depth of gratitude in those times that changes us.
- One of the best ways to be more thankful is by serving others. There are many for whom every day is a struggle, and making their life better can help change our entire outlook.
Being thankful on purpose is something any of us can do. If we choose to.
Question: What are some of the things you are most thankful for?
Action: Pick 1 of the 5 items above to work on over the next month.