Oh my, these last few years. We’ve all been through it. Can I get an “Amen” that we’ve gotten through it?
So, this Thanksgiving, I’m grateful to be getting through, grateful to be here, grateful for God, once again, saving my life following my serious medical issues of last year.
Even with all I’ve been through, all the physical challenges, all the emotional heartaches, I’m still a glass-half-full kind of person, a rah-rah, God-is-Faithful believer. I’ve learned to be a believer in giving thanks in all circumstances, in “natural” gratitude and in “gracious” gratitude.
As a college student with a minor in Humanities, I studied the writings of Jonathan Edwards, regarded as a great theologian and philosopher of British American Puritanism and a forerunner of the Great Awakening. He is best known for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” which he preached in 1741.
But he also wrote a book, The Religious Affections, where he distinguished between “natural” gratitude and “gracious” gratitude. Natural gratitude is an appreciation for good gifts—for things that make us happy, like life, family, employment, leisure, freedom, a warm bed, cold drinks, and sunshine. This kind of thankfulness may be displayed by “natural man,” those Edwards referred to as without God’s redeeming grace.
But gracious gratitude starts from a different place. Instead of beginning with WHAT God gives us, this gratitude begins with WHO God is and thanks Him for His character, goodness, love, and power, regardless of particular favors and enjoyments received. This, Edwards said, is evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in a life. As we sit down to a Thanksgiving meal, it is perfectly understandable that we will thank God for all the benefits we enjoy, for all that we find to be favorable. But what are we to do with the disappointments and difficulties, the losses and sorrows of the past twelve months? The past two years? By nature, we may express gratitude for all that is pleasurable. Only by grace may we learn to “give thanks in all circumstances.”
Taking in the good and being grateful is not about always putting a happy shiny face on everything, nor is it about turning away from the hard things in life. It’s about nourishing gratitude — “natural” gratitude and “gracious” gratitude, for WHAT God gives and for WHO God is—refuges to which you can always return.
This year, especially, I’m all about thankfulness and gratefulness and saluting the goodness of God and the goodness of each day.
We can choose to be thankful and grateful, understanding the fragility of life that makes every moment so meaningful. We often waste too many moments immersing ourselves in needless distractions that steal our attention away from the things that actually matter. We should grasp the precious moments of this life and stop being distracted with the things that don’t really matter.
David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, wrote, “The root of joy is gratefulness … It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” And that Bible verse which tells us to be grateful “in all circumstances.”
We decide what to look for and what we see. We decide our focus. It’s about learning, studying the ways of contentment and appreciation. I know that by slowing down, by looking differently, I choose to focus on the light, the positive, the greatness of God, and all the reasons I have to be eternally grateful.
Start to see the good, the happy, even in the small in WHAT God gives. Actively search for those moments, develop a posture of looking for and of finding happy. Cultivate this vision: seeing those moments and being grateful for the happy day moments.
Then remember the grace of WHO God is. His character, His love, His holiness. Understand that every day, He can make a difference; His love makes a difference. That life is a gift. That love is a gift. That each day we awaken and breathe is a gift.
And I will be grateful. With natural gratitude. With gracious gratitude.
Essential to living a life with joy, confidence, faith, and hope is remembering to be grateful.
By understanding that every moment of every day in every life does not have to be happy.
Only ONE moment does. ONE glimpse. ONE second. ONE breath.
And choosing to find it. Choosing to hold onto it. Choosing to claim it to redeem any hard messy heartbreaking sorrowful day. It’s our choice. Being naturally grateful and graciously grateful. For life.