Thanksgiving will be here soon and I’m looking forward to it. Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year. (I say that now, but wait until we start the Christmas series next week; I’ll say that Christmas is my favorite season.)
I really do love Thanksgiving. If holidays could be identified as a color, for me Thanksgiving is a brown holiday, not the garish black and orange of Halloween, and it’s something other than the frenzied red of the secular Christmas.
Brown is a peaceful, earthy tone, suggestive of fallen leaves, dried corn stalks and landscapes at rest after the harvest.
“The fact is, gratitude doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Grumbling comes naturally; gratitude takes effort. That’s why we must work at it until it becomes second nature.”
Other than the grocery shopping and the perceived obligations one must meet during this season, Thanksgiving remains personal and private.
I also like the Thanksgiving holiday because I like what it stands for: a thankful heart. The longer I live, the more I realize that gratitude is our greatest asset and it’s the greatest weapon against adversity.
Helen Keller said, “So much has been given to me; I have no time to ponder over that which has been denied.”
I know a lot of people who are perpetually happy and a lot of people who are perpetually unhappy. The difference is not their lot in life, income, wealth, number of friends, geographical location, or the amount of spare time they enjoy.
The happiest people I know are people who are grateful.
My goal is to make gratitude a habit — a choice I make again and again and again until it comes naturally to me. The fact is, gratitude doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Grumbling comes naturally; gratitude takes effort. That’s why we must work at it until it becomes second nature.
Elizabeth Elliot, the wife of the late missionary Jim Elliot, wrote this about gratitude: “It is always possible to be thankful for what is given rather than to complain about what is not given. One or the other becomes a habit of life.”
I was reading Psalm 71 the other day and I was struck that King David did not, like most people, only recognize the hand of God in an extraordinary manner, but his eye of faith regarded the ordinary works of God as miracles.
In David’s words I saw three ways to make gratitude a habit.
1. Be grateful for who you are
“Yes, you have been with me from birth; from my mother’s womb you have cared for me.”
– Psalm 71:6, New International Version
I would dare to say that most of us are unhappy about some aspect of ourselves — usually an aspect that we had nothing to do with. We think: “Why can’t I be taller, skinnier, better-looking? Why couldn’t I have been born rich? Why couldn’t I have been born in another place, or another time? Why couldn’t I have a better singing voice or be a better golfer?”
Many people are dissatisfied with the raw material they’ve been given to work with. The fact is, however, that God made you just as you are, and he had you in mind at the time. Be grateful for what God made you to be.
Abraham Lincoln said, “It is difficult to make a man miserable when he feels worthy of himself and claims kindred to the great God who made him.”
Accept the fact that God made you. He chose your parents, your birthday, your physical attributes, your talents, your intellectual capacity — you are just as he wanted you to be. Instead of grumbling about yourself, take some time to say “thank you.”
2. Remember what God has done for you
Thomas Merton said, “To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything he has given us — and he has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of his love.”
In verse 15 David wrote, “All day long I will proclaim your saving power, though I am not skilled with words.”
“God made you just as you are, and he had you in mind at the time. Be grateful for what God made you to be.”
And again he said, “You have done such wonderful things. Who can compare with you, O God?” (vs. 19)
God has blessed each one of us in thousands of ways — many of which we’ve never acknowledged: The people he has put in our lives, the jobs he has provided, the protection he has given us, the mercy he has shown us.
I encourage you to look back at your life and see how the hand of God has guided you from one place to the next. Look at all the pleasant things that have happened — the unasked-for blessings, the undeserved favors — and say thank you for each one.
3. Practice Living in the Moment
So many people are unable to appreciate what God is doing for them today because they’re still haunted by things that happened years ago.
This kind of thinking is the antithesis of everything gratitude stands for. We have to accept the fact that the past is gone. It doesn’t do any good to dwell on it.
In the same way, many people are unable to appreciate what God is doing for them today because they’re obsessed with what might happen in the future. They can’t express gratitude today because they’re worried about tomorrow.
Every day brings with it a little bit of pressure. Some days bring a lot of it. Every day I have to make the choice to live in the moment. I do better some days than others. The choice to live in the moment is always a step of faith; I’ve learned that I cannot experience gratitude unless I take that step.
David said… “That is why I can never stop praising you; I declare your glory all day long,” (vs. 8).
Gratitude is a habit; we have to practice it daily in order to get good at it. If you want to get good at gratitude, practice living in the moment — all day long.
If you were to shape the next month of your life in a way that fosters gratitude for God and others, what would you do?
Prayer for Gratitude
This is my prayer for you:
Father God, I thank you for my friends and ask that your kindness and loving mercy will watch over them this Thanksgiving and Advent season. Give to each one the blessing of a new day. And in the weeks to come, may they experience your favor with a fresh awareness of your strong and faithful love.
God, sometimes life gets us down and we find it hard to see things for which to be thankful. Open our eyes to see the gifts you’ve freely given.
So I thank you, not just for the food on our tables, and the blessings for this past year, but for all the ways you have not performed according to our liking. For all the times you said “no” and for all the ways you have worked in and through our lives, perhaps without us knowing it. Thank you for all the unresolved issues and the ways we are still waiting for answers.
Thank you that you are the author of peace and you are the lover of our souls. Preserve us with your power that we may not slip into wrong desires, nor be overcome by adversity. In all we do, direct us to the fulfilling your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Savior and coming King. Amen