I was on my way to church the other day with my youngest daughter, and she was sharing with me that Thanksgiving was her favorite holiday; better than Christmas. She said that all the presents just bring with them additional stress (although I’m sure she’ll temper her aversion to Christmas stress once it comes time to actually receive said presents). She loves Thanksgiving because it brings three of her favorite things: family, eating, and watching football.
I like those things, too, and I have to agree that Thanksgiving is also one of my favorites. But, for different reasons. I’ve come to love it, particularly as I’ve grown older, because it’s a season and a day dedicated to cultivating gratitude to the Lord as the giver of all good things. And, the older I get, the more precious I see that gift as it really is.
Gratitude does not come naturally to us. As the center of our own universe, we think we’re entitled to the best things, the most things, when the spiritual reality of our lives is that we’re only entitled to death followed by hell; anything more we get is a gracious gift of God.
Gratitude is a spiritual discipline we have to cultivate in our hearts. And, it is absolutely vital, because it is the gateway to holiness. Gratitude makes us humble, convicting us of our reliance upon the Lord, in whom we live and move and have our being.
We are utterly depraved and deprived without God, and gratitude helps spur on the awareness of that depravity and deprivation. When we realize who God is and who we are without Him, it leads us to humility.
When we’re humble before the Lord, it allows Him to work His grace in our lives. James 4:6 says, God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. God’s grace is power, and the humbler we are, the more He can work in us, and the more power in His Spirit we can receive.
Cultivating gratitude is also the pathway to joy. James 1 also tells us to consider it all joy when you face various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And, let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. When we practice and cultivate gratitude, we have hearts primed to receive the pain and troubles of life, experiencing the grief, but coupled with a heart of hope and joy-knowing in our gut that God will someday wipe all this away, that, for those of us in Christ Jesus, this is as bad as it will ever be, and that God is forging goodness in us through it, bringing beauty out of the ashes.
All of the goodness of life, whether it comes to us as outwardly good or the ultimate fruit of difficulty and trial, was meant to be received as an undeserved gift from the Lord. And, being able to receive all of it as a gift is the secret of happiness. All our misguided attempts at achieving happiness in life are efforts to satisfy the lie that we’re entitled to the best things, that we deserve them. We scrap and scrape to get what we deserve, and when we get it, it doesn’t make us happy. Because happiness isn’t about getting anything; it’s about shifting how we think about life. When we realize we’re entitled to nothing, owed nothing and every good and perfect gift is from our Father above, we finally realize that all our happiness is rooted in receiving good gifts from God, and God Himself, who loves us and loves to give.
Gratefulness really is the gateway to holiness.
So, on Thanksgiving, no matter how old your kids, why not play the “game of gratitude” around the table? First, let everyone go around once and tell something they’re thankful for- chances are it will be something material, like iPhones, Fortnight, or–if someone’s feeling particularly deep–family. These are just the everyday blessings we know we have, but maybe take for granted. Recognize those.
Then, next time around, go deeper: probe your family to think a little more deeply about something not quite so obvious, like a healthy body, or something that just “happens” to keep you alive, like gravity or air- use this round to remind them of God’s sovereignty, and His common grace over our lives, those things we don’t think about often, but that might make us more grateful if we did.
Finally, ask them to mention a trial this year- an illness, job loss, a failure at school or in a relationship, and how God used that trial to mold and shape them, to bring forth fruit, or to teach them about life and hope and love. They may need a little coaching, or it may be a great opportunity for other family members to encourage them in the fruit they’ve seen brought forth. This is a great way to teach kids to rejoice always; in everything give thanks.
Cultivating gratefulness is the cure for entitlement and chasing happiness in things that won’t give it.
I was thinking about the day my oldest was born. All my kids’ births were great days, but there’s something about the experience of the first: all the anticipation, the concern, the worry. I remember holding her, for the very first time, not believing how I could possibly love anyone so much I had only just met, and overwhelmed by how this woman that I loved so much had done so well in bringing our baby into the world. I was so awed by it all!
In that moment, I felt overwhelmingly grateful. I didn’t feel as though I was owed this brilliant life, or deserved her. Quite the contrary- there was no price I could have possibly paid for that gift, that moment. All I could be was overflowing with gratitude to God, my Abba, who loves me, and who had given me this precious, undeserved gift.
As I was reflecting on that amazing moment the other day, I thought: what if I lived every day with the same spirit of gratefulness I felt that day? For family, friends, health, work, and life? Life isn’t often that emotionally intense, but I really can be that grateful. I just need to cultivate the gift.