I can appreciate that you might think it’s a stupid question to ask, “Why be grateful?”. Obviously, we’re in Thanksgiving week, so it’s season to be thankful and it’s our annual tradition. So Thanksgiving is when we’re supposed to be thankful and it’s easy to go through the customary gratitudes and “check the box” moving along into the Christmas frenzy. But I think we would be wise to pause and do some thinking about being grateful, not just because it’s Thanksgiving.
Why do we need to be thankful?
In one of my all-time favorite books, Man’s Search for Meaning, the author tells about one of his experiences in the Holocaust, in a Concentration Camp. Clearly, life in a Concentration Camp was nothing short of an hellacious existence that was inhumane and depraved beyond even animal existence. But in the midst of such depravity, death, deprivation and sheer degeneracy, the author describes an experience where a fellow inmate beckoned his bunkmates to come outside at the end of a torturous day to see the beautiful sky from a glorious sunset. There was gratitude in the author’s mind in this observation, no matter his daily hell. Every time I read this experience, it causes me to pause and reflect. It’s possible to be grateful even in the most barbaric existence.
Furthermore, I’m reminded about the ten lepers Jesus cleansed in Luke 17:11-19. In these verses, we see that this small and tragic community yelled to Jesus from a distance, asking that He’d heal them. These men weren’t allowed to mingle with regular society because leprosy was contagious and incurable at that time, hence the distance. Jesus yelled back to them, that they should go and show themselves to the priests and as they went they were cleansed, according to verse 14. This is a really cool story, even if we stop there. But we see the real gold when one of the ten lepers returns to Jesus and expresses his gratitude. It’s noteworthy that the only healed leper to express thanks was a Samaritan, the group who was looked down on by proper Jews. And Jesus’ reply shows us that He’s disappointed that the other nine lepers didn’t return be express gratitude. Based on Jesus’ response, I understand that God expects me to be grateful, full stop.
So what would hinder us from being grateful? Here are some gratitude obstacles that could be hindrances for you:
- What I deserve: if you think you’re entitled, then gratitude is often overlooked
- Negative outlook: if your glass is half full, then you’ll struggle to find things for which to be grateful
- Too much: when we’re overwhelmed with pressure, demands, abundance, leisure, . . . it’s easy to forget to be grateful
- Life season: we can grow through really tough seasons when it’s easy and natural to forget to be thankful
So how can we avoid these pitfalls and cultivate gratitude as a lifestyle and not just a season? Here are a few suggestions that might be helpful:
- Make a “Thankful List” everyday with at least 3-5 different things from the preceding day
- Real-time gratitude: say thank you when people do something nice (even if they can’t hear you) and thank you to God for the daily helps (avoiding a traffic accident, scheduling help, wisdom for a problem, unexpected money or a decrease in a bill, transportation to work, encouragement from a friend, an energy boost when you’re tired, grace in a tense situation, . . . .)
- Seeing and hearing beauty around you in people, birds, trees, worship songs, Bible verse, clouds, snow, sunset, tasty food, . . . .
- Thank people for who they are and not just what they do
To that end, I have a great friend who frequently reminds me that gratitude makes everything enough! Happy Thanksgiving!