Thankful. It’s something that we should feel, right?
Scripture tells us to be "thankful in everything, even in all circumstances." (1 Thess.5:18) When I was a kid, my mom would tell me I better eat all my dinner because there were children in Africa that were starving, and I should be thankful for that disgusting asparagus. Seriously? When I was little the taste of it used to make me gag. I have since become a big fan of asparagus and now even could say with enthusiasm, I am thankful for it. But not because I willed myself to like it. My taste buds just changed over the past four decades and now that flavor is something I can enjoy.
The problem is that being told I should be something, or I should feel something, has never really made a big change in my heart. Instead, it kind of made me feel pressured.
Be thankful. Give thanks to the Lord. Come before Him with Thanksgiving. Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. The Bible is full of phrases prodding us to be thankful. Sometimes that feels as difficult as someone telling me I have to forgive someone that hurt me. If I don’t feel forgiving in my heart, do I just fake it and say, “I forgive you?”
Actually, that’s not a bad strategy.
Here’s a few things I’ve learned about thankfulness.
- Thankfulness is more than a feeling! So is love and forgiveness. We tend to associate how we feel with the measure of what is true but our hearts are not always reliable guides. Sometimes my heart is so jacked up and God knows what’s really in there. If the only way I could be thankful was to feel the right way about things, then I get an “F” in gratitude. But feeling it is something that can come after you do it.
- Thankfulness is something we can learn and get better at. Once we get the idea that it’s not just about how we feel in any given moment, we can move on to the active, intentional practice of thankfulness. It takes a little reflective time to look at your daily life through the lens of gratitude, but when you want to be thankful, you work at it. Think of the things in your life, the people, the events, the good things…really think about them and what they mean to you. Imagine if they weren’t there. What helps me with this practice is to journal. Even making a daily list of things that God allowed to come into my life that day can help. If I know that He doesn’t cause everything, but everything passes through His hands and He intends it all for my good, then I can imagine what my Good Father wanted for me through this event, person, thing, etc.
- God can help us be thankful. If we invite Him and ask, He can help us grow in our capacity for gratitude. Speak out gratitude even when you don’t feel it. Show appreciation, say thank you often and pause to celebrate good things in your life. These are ways of demonstrating thankfulness that can, over time, have an effect on your heart. Do what we know we should do, and then the feelings come after. It’s amazing how God will change our hearts to feel the right way when we act the right way.
I hope this helps when you are tempted to feel like you’re faking your thankfulness because you don’t feel it. So with no “shoulds,” and no super spiritual answers to impress you, here are some honest things I am thankful for right now that, by the grace of God, I actually feel deeply in my heart.
- My husband. Every day he loves me patiently, he secures my heart and encourages me to draw closer to Jesus. Every day he makes me smile, laugh and think. Every day he is a joy to me and a gift I am grateful for.
- Coffee. I am not even kidding. It’s one of my favorite things on earth and I am excited every morning to have my first cup. It makes me happy and warm and I am allowed to have it. God is good.
- Singing harmony. There are few things better in life, than singing that rubbing middle note in the middle of a fat juicy chord of voices. Pure joy!
- Old friends. People who really know me, get me and just love me. I have quite a few of those old friends and being around them is like exhaling stress and inhaling encouragement and safety.
- Jesus. Every moment. Every day. I need Him and He has never failed me. It sounds like the answer I should give, but it’s really the honest answer from the depths of this messed up heart who knows she needs a Savior. Could I be more grateful for Him? Absolutely. Should I be more grateful for Him? Definitely. And I have all eternity to search the riches of knowing Him and practice what I want to be.