When we sit down at the table for a meal, I usually ask my children what they want to be thankful for that day. Inevitably, their answers are...interesting. “I’m thankful for peanut butter!” pipes my 4-year-old. “Doll!” says my 2-year old. I smile, because for children, being grateful for food and entertainment is not a bad thing. But my husband and I always try to end the discussion with the words, “Be thankful for your blessings, but be grateful for your hardships.”
This is perhaps a weird thing to say. Hardships? No one really wants to hope for those, right? But in my house, we’ve had each in equal measure. Most folks have. “But why,” demands my 4-year-old, “should we feel grateful for things that make our life hard?”
In many ways, it’s easy to be angry when things don’t work out the way we want. I want to be frustrated with traffic or angry when I’m late. I want to be upset when I am stressed out or the surprise expense appears. Even deeply difficult things in our lives like lost jobs, sickness, or death make us want to shake our fists and vent our hurt and anger. The hard truth is that these moments have a purpose in our lives. We cannot grow as human beings without hardship.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Malawi, Africa on a medical mission trip. We helped set up clinic at a place called Potoweera. Peter Masako, the director and only doctor, had founded the orphanage / free medical clinic / woman’s domestic abuse shelter. He worked six days of the week to run the clinic and spent his time on Sundays helping tend the compound’s livestock, running a private clinic for all the children of Potoweera, and doing the odd jobs often required of him to keep everything functioning. He proudly showed us the buildings that had concrete floors and tin roofs. There was no electricity, but there was running water from the well. The exam rooms each had a big window, and while they lacked glass, they were each covered with mosquito netting. His was the only clinic available to many, as the nearest hospital was 56 miles away. Without his care, many of the villagers in the surrounding area would have succumbed to disease or infection. In those weeks I helped him care for those such as an abandoned baby, weighing only 4 pounds. I saw many with cerebral malaria, including a 7-year-old boy, who was seizing from fever. I saw cholera, flu, and many with chicken pox. Peter treated them all with a gentle kindness and humor.
It was during my stay at the clinic that there was a break-in by thieves with guns. They demanded what little money there was to be had. They ransacked the clinic at night, stealing anything that might be of value. Even the cheap thermometers were taken. In the morning, I walked with Peter to view the damage. He was angry and frustrated. His sole purpose was to keep this small island of hope running for so many who needed it. But when he spoke, his words were not of anger or defeat. He looked at me and said, “This is the Devil trying to keep me from my work. But I will not let him win! I am grateful for the chance to forgive.”
I have never forgotten Peter or his message. Gratitude, in its many forms, is crucial to our lives. Like a house that needs repair, my mind and attitude often need a little work. In my struggles I look at my hardships and try not to see the issue, but rather the opportunity to build, to be grateful, and to keep working through.
Written by Meredith
I recently achieved a very big milestone in any teenager’s life: I turned 18. This landmark can mean many things to different people — getting a job, moving out of the house, even buying their first lottery ticket. For me, however, my eighteenth birthday meant something else — it was a chance to reflect on everything that my parents have done for me up to this point and how much more they will do for me in my lifetime.
Although it is a parental obligation to take care of their children, not all parents do that. I am grateful that I was born into a family and to parents that love me and my sister with every fiber of their being and constantly strive to take care of us in whatever capacity they can. Besides God’s grace of forgiving me, my parents’ generosity in raising me and pouring their passion into me is the greatest gift of generosity that I will never be able to repay.
As I reflect back on the relatively short life I have had so far, I am, in every sense of the phrase, blown away by the generosity that my parents have shown me. Until I become a parent myself, I will never truly understand all of the sacrifices my parents have made to raise me and take care of me all these years. I am fortunate that I did not get kicked out of the house on my eighteenth birthday and told, “Good luck, I hope you figure it out!” like so many individuals are forced to do. Although I don’t always show it, because I am a teenager after all, my greatest feeling of gratitude is for my parents and the boundless gift of generosity they have shown in putting forth the effort of raising me.
Proverbs 22:6 says: “Train children in the way they should go; when they grow old, they won’t depart from it.” I believe that my parents strive to do this every day with me, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Written by Katheryn
Webster’s Dictionary defines gratitude as “a feeling of appreciation or thanks.” So if gratitude is feeling thanks, I suppose being grateful is expressing the thanks you feel.
Psychology Today states that gratitude has 7 scientifically proven benefits. Gratitude:
I think it all lies in EXPRESSING our gratitude. We can feel grateful, but if we don’t share what we feel, we won’t experience the true positive effects gratitude can afford us. In my own experience, I learned firsthand how gratitude can shape you. My father passed away a couple months ago, and I still struggle on a daily basis, but having friends and family around to love on me has lifted my spirits immeasurably. They have done simple tasks such as send me cards, encouraging text messages, bring me cookies, coffee, flowers, as well as help me with errands and menial tasks. What makes me grateful is not simply that they bought me something; rather, it’s that they made me feel special by helping carry my burden so I didn’t have to do it alone. Sometimes I would have an especially hard day but then would come home to a new card and flowers with just the words I needed to hear. I’m beyond grateful for my friendships. Letting people I love into this hard season of my life has led to healing. It has made my darkest days a little brighter. I wrote a couple thank you cards to express my gratitude, and actually writing the words was cathartic. It showed me that though I just had a horrible loss in my life, I have been blessed with wonderful friendships. Essentially not all is lost.
I often think of the verse, Philippians 1:3 “I thank my God every time I remember you.” Now when I remember my father, I’m not only sad, I’m also overwhelmed by feelings of gratitude.
Written by Alexa, a guest contributor
How expressing thanks opens us up to God's grace.
Written by Eric Demeter
It’s almost unbelievable that Jesus heals 10 lepers in Luke 17 simultaneously. Without fanfare, He simply commands the motley crew, “Go, show yourselves to the priest.” They exit stage-left and their skin is restored.
Jesus certainly missed an opportunity there to make a big, impressive scene. The Lord was never concerned with aggrandizement. What was unbelievable to Him, however, was the lack of thankfulness from the former lepers. Only one makes a U-turn to thank Him for His tremendous miracle.
As the Bible records, “When he saw he was healed, he came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan” (v. 15-16).
Jesus was shocked and asked, “Were not 10 cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
The unfortunate result was that 90 percent of the lepers missed the second, more important gift Jesus had planned for them. To the lone, grateful Samaritan He responded, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Even more important than physical health, this person’s spiritual life had been restored.
Scripture doesn’t tell us why the other lepers failed to praise God. Yet it’s clear from Jesus’s response that thankfulness was the only proper response to the miracle.
What About When We Suffer?
Gratitude flows easily when we’ve landed our dream job or just fell head-over-heels for a potential mate. And it’s easy to lift up some heavenly appreciation when we only receive a warning (instead of a ticket) for speeding. But what about when we don’t get our way? Or what about when tragedy strikes? Can we still be thankful then?
Indeed, life is not always a buffet of delicious circumstances where we get to pick and choose which items we put on our plate. Sometimes we get served a dish of lemons.
Fortunately, Christian gratitude doesn’t require us to “turn our lemons into lemonade”—a cliché that might be found in some cheesy self-help book. Certainly, painful events can shape us and build our character, but that doesn’t mean we have to simply smile through the pain and pretend everything’s fine.
A theology of gratitude that doesn’t allow for grief is at best misguided, if not downright egregious. Can you imagine a passerby saying to Jesus on Calvary “turn that frown upside-down”?
Ingesting life’s difficulties and tragic events can be overwhelming. Having a heart of gratitude, therefore, is not about looking at the bright side of things. And it’s not even acknowledging that things could be worse. Our thankfulness is never to be based on a set of circumstances. It’s based on a Person.
The answer to our pain and suffering isn’t new circumstances but God Himself. Jesus came, not only to suffer for us, but to suffer with us. Isaiah describes Christ as being: “Despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (53:3).
Jesus understands our pain and empathizes with us.
Practicing gratitude rests soundly in the assuredness that God will ultimately redeem every horrible situation in this life or the next. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
This promise allows us to “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Yet it’s easy to miss God’s current blessings when pain overwhelms us, however. I’ve shaken my fist toward heaven more than once in agony. Even so, God will never take away His gifts. He’s that good. If I were in Jesus’ shoes, on the other hand, I’d probably replace the nine leper’s healings with nine nasty curses. Or, at bare minimum, I’d unheal them all. That’ll show ‘em to be thankful!
But it was love, not intimidation that drew one Samaritan to unwrap the gift of eternity. Saying “thank you” will always reveal unseen blessings. We can’t control the Giver, but we can always expect one gift: the power to hope.
Then, we’ll receive other common events like watching sunsets, eating dinner with a friend or sleeping in a comfortable bed as undeserved blessings. In practicing gratitude, every day is a treasure hunt.
This article was originally published by RELEVANT magazine on December 10, 2015.
My first significant memory of generosity occurred when I was living on my own for the first time with my first child. I brought home $103 a week. My budget was a ballet of spending the least amount possible while providing for my son. I remember buying two apples and a quart of milk figuring that I could stretch them out for 4 days if I gave him half an apple a day and a cup of milk with his dinner.
At one point, I was short on rent $60. I don’t remember why, but I remember putting my son down for a nap and crying for a long time. In the midst of my hopelessness, the phone rang. It was a man I’d met at a church I’d visited once a couple of weeks previously. He said God told him to call and asked what I needed. Reluctantly, I told him that I was worried about my rent for the month, feeling uncomfortable sharing my problem. After talking a bit, I revealed that coming up with $60 seemed impossible. We prayed over the phone, and I felt good that he’d cared enough to contact me. The next day there was an envelope with $60 in it by my door when I came home from work. To this day, I don’t know how he knew my number, where I lived, or how he knew to call. I never saw or heard from him again.
That gift of $60 is still with me rippling outward and expanding in my life. It taught me that miracles happen. It’s moving me now as I write about it. His generosity taught me how to give without expectation, and I learned by trying to follow his example that giving benefits the giver as much or if not more than the receiver.
Written by Kathy
The other night I was watching Jimmy Fallon, and part of an interview jumped out to me. Jimmy had Terry Crews on his show. For those of you that don’t know, Terry is an actor who first became famous because of some strangely funny Old Spice commercials and has since become a well known movie actor as well.
On the show, he’s talking to Jimmy about break dancing (which is comical in of itself because he’s a huge muscular guy) and then Jimmy asks him where he gets all his energy. His answer? Gratitude.
Terry Crews is no expert on life, just like none of us really are, but I think he’s right about this. Giving thanks unlocks something within us. It breaks down walls and unleashes life.
Just type “the effects of gratitude” into Google and you get article after article about how it improves your social, psychological, physical, and spiritual health. Over and over again, studies show that gratitude opens us up to a better life.
In 1 Thessalonians, Paul says something similar to Terry. He says, “give thanks in all circumstances.” For Paul, giving thanks was key to the way he lived life. Paul was not living some extraordinarily fine life either. He was often thrown into prison, beaten, and persecuted. So to say “give thanks in all circumstances” carries a lot of punch coming from him.
So what’s Paul giving thanks for? For him thanksgiving is grounded in the assurance of God’s love. We often call this salvation, and for Paul, salvation wasn’t just a postmortem reality but an in-this-very-present-day kind of reality. No matter the circumstance, Paul could look around and give thanks for the blessing of God’s love and purpose in his life.
I think gratitude reminds us that every day is a gift. It reminds us that we are always connected to others for various reasons - that where we are today was due in part to the help, generosity, and goodness of others and God. And when we put on this lens, everything changes.
Not only that, but when gratitude is unleashed, generosity is right on its heels. I’ve heard that gratitude is the gateway to generosity, and if Terry Crews and all those articles are right, then this too would make sense.
We are more generous with our time to others.
We are more generous with our compliments.
We are more generous with money and resources.
So if Paul, Terry Crews, and all those articles are onto something, then gratitude is an art to be developed. Paul and Terry seem to be pointing to another important thing about gratitude. It’s not just about what I feel thankful for, but what I can find to be thankful for.
If I’m just waiting for the feeling of gratitude instead of looking for reasons to give gratitude, then I’m missing it. Again, Paul’s words remind us that gratitude is something we can always be seeking out in every circumstance.
I wonder what a little gratitude every day would unlock for me? Maybe my patience in Houston traffic would increase. Maybe my generosity to strangers on the street would increase. Maybe my love for my wife when I got home would be more caring. Maybe something I never dreamed of in the morning would become a reality because gratitude unlocked a hidden potential in me that day.
What might gratitude unleash in you?
Written by Mark
The 12:12 Project is sponsored by Katy First United Methodist Church.