What I Learned About Gratitude This Year
“We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good, if bad, because it works in us patience, humility and the contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.”
There is one more month of school left.
Looking back, I can safely say that God has taught me more about gratitude this school year than at any other point in my life. It has been the overarching theme, possibly even my “season,” to translate it into Christian-ese, and it has been absolutely beautiful. I wouldn’t have it any other way, because I now realize that a life without gratitude is a colorless one indeed.
So, of course, the first and foremost thing I learned about gratitude is: Be Grateful. Let’s just lay that foundation right now. There are verses all over the Bible about being grateful to God for His gifts, provision, and mercy, and it is absolutely critical in the Christian life. I want to get a little more specific than that, though.
1. Be Grateful for the Bible.
I worked as a camp counselor this past summer at Frontier Camp. The experience as a whole was, in a couple of words, mind blowing, but there is one thing in particular I took away from the summer that I’ll ever forget. It’s a quote by the staff pastor, Stu*. He said it during one of his sermons; I don’t know if it was planned. I don’t even know if he remembers saying it, but I’ll never forget it. It’s this:
“Are we already over the fact that we even have a Bible?”
I had been taking the Bible for granted to the extreme. It had just always been there with me, waiting for me to muster up the desire to engage in the burden of reading it. “It’s boring,” my excuses shouted. “It’s time-consuming and hard to understand at times and I just don’t really feel like it.”
But, you guys, God didn’t have to tell us anything about Himself! And yet here is a clean little package of 66 books–66 love letters–that He wrote and dedicated to us. There is an entire storyline in there of how He saved the world, a storyline dotted with romance and violence and life lessons. That collection of books, which most of us have sitting on a shelf in our homes, is God’s autobiography to mankind.
It is our ticket to understanding the Creator of ourselves–or understanding Him as well as we can with our finite minds, at least. Yet reading it is somehow a burden?
Beyond that, not everyone even has access to this autobiography. We happen to have the privilege of having it translated clearly in our language, and if you live in most English-speaking countries you are also allowed to read it. Not everyone can say that. So many cannot open up a book and learn about their Savior, about the God who loved them to the point of death.
When was the last time your heart was moved by that?
*Stu, if you’re reading this, thank you. For this, and for all you did/do for us.
2. Be Grateful for Life.
This is another very basic one, but one that I forget about. God just reminded me of this one this morning, actually, so I’m glad to be able to share it with you!
How often are we grateful just to be alive, to have been created?
You wouldn’t be here, reading this post, if God hadn’t first imagined you–your hair color, what your laugh would sound like, what your favorite food would be–and then created you because He wanted to know someone like that.
Now that we have been created, we get to go out and experience all that this life has in store for us. We don’t need to wake up each morning dreading what the day holds–I don’t care if it’s Friday or Monday. Life is a gift.
He didn’t have to create you! He didn’t have to create me! Yet He did, and now that we’re here, He loves us, and He’ll never stop loving us. That’s exciting news!
Have you ever imagined a picture in your mind, and then tried to paint it and then realized you just couldn’t create it in real life? Maybe the actual product was kind of disappointing compared to what you created in your mind?
Yeah, we aren’t like that for God. When He looks at those who love Him, He sees perfection.
3. Be Grateful for Your Church.
About once a month, I get the urge to shop around for another church. Sometimes it’s a relational issue, but usually I’m just genuinely curious (There are over 200 churches within 20 minutes of my house). Each time I really believe that this is it–I’m going to find another church. A perfect one; one where everyone
is perfect loves God perfectly and has the same gifts as me and knows how to be exactly what I need without me having to tell them.
Each time, I’m pretty sure God laughs at me.*
I think most of us can agree that The Church, the bride of Christ, is a great thing. A smaller percentage of us would agree that our church, lowercase c, is a great thing.
Since churches are made up of imperfect people, none is ever going to be perfect. Your church, however, is full of prime opportunities to contribute to God’s Kingdom. You get to live out our calling to serve, make disciples, and fellowship, all in one place. If you are being fed and you are growing in your faith with your church, that is a gift–one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. God has planted you there for a reason, and the community that comes with it is His gift to you. At times it is also His way of teaching us patience and humility!
*Probably good-naturedly, since His love is perfect and all. But there’s very likely some laughter all the same.
4. Be Grateful for God’s Provision.
What are some specific ways that God has provided for you and your family? What prayers has He answered? We should try to notice things like this and thank Him for it. It does wonders for our relationship with Him.
At the beginning of the year I spent a lot of time praying for my family. I knew of specific things they needed from God, and I can see now that He provided all of them over the course of the last 9 months or so. He did some things in their lives that I did not see coming–then again, He is a lot more creative than me. This is the God who makes rivers in the desert we’re talking about, the God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence things that did not exist (Romans 4:17). I am so grateful that He allowed me to see that verse come alive.
As far as my own life, He provided in so many small ways:
When I asked Him for a youth group I could work with and grow my ministry skills, He provided one.
When camp got difficult and I no longer had it within me to continue, He took over and gave me the energy and words I needed.
When I went through a breakup that I had a really difficult time with, He gave me joy and reminded me of my purpose.
When I was unsure about my career and major choices, He reassured me and gave me fresh vision.
At every point I felt low, He comforted me (2 Corinthians 1:3). When my heart was broken, He healed me (Psalm 147:3).
And on and on and on.
He didn’t have to do any of that.
Sometimes it’s hard to know when He is providing in the moment, since life can be hard and situations are rarely perfect. Looking back, though, it’s so clear that He is constantly providing for me and sending me gifts. I would venture that you could say the same if you spent some time honestly thinking about it.
5. Be Grateful For the People in Your Life.
Seriously, because they may not be here tomorrow. Don’t take them for granted. Outwardly show them that you appreciate them.
I don’t know what I would do without the people God has given me. They are my community, my friends, the people who make me laugh, the ones who keep me from going insane. The more I think about it, the harder it hits me that He didn’t have to put them in my life. “What if me and ______ had never crossed paths?” is a question that strikes me from time to time, and each time it causes gratitude to well up in me because they are a gift. Sometimes when people do frustrating things we can forget that, but it’s true.
Also, remember how I said that life is a gift? The fact that God created your friends and family and gave them life, gave them today, is not only a gift to them–it is a gift to you too.
God has put every single person you know in your path for a reason. Often, He uses people as His medium of showing us His love. He is showing His love to you through them in some way–and, on the flip side, He is showing His love to them through you.
Let that sink in: If you keep an eye out for it, God will undoubtedly reveal His love for you in the way people interact with you. Beyond that, you get to show the love of the Father to everyone you come across today! Imagine the possibilities!
Will you take advantage of that?
6. Be Grateful For the Patch of Grass God Has Brought You To.
Contentment is a lifestyle, not the product of a destination.
God has given us all a patch of grass to steward. What is it for you? What has God brought you to and asked you to steward? Is it a relationship status, a career, a stage of life?
For me, it was a stage of life. Don’t get me wrong, I love college. I love that it is opening doors for me, I love the people I’ve met, and I love the opportunity to learn more about this world. I am also grateful for the privilege of going at all, a privilege denied to most of the world.
But I’m really excited for the next part, and that actually led to a lot of discouragement for awhile.
This semester was an especially heavy time with regard to discouragement. School just seemed to pale so much in comparison to the career that God is leading me to, the post-college life that He has for me. I still strongly believe that He is taking me to bigger and better things, but He reminded me of the beauty of where I am now.
A couple of days ago He put this question into my mind: What if the grass in your future isn’t any greener than the grass I have you in now?
That question wasn’t meant to make me feel hopeless. Rather, it was meant to help me reevaluate my feelings of discontentment. Every stage of life–and on that note, every relationship status, job, and season–comes with its pros and cons. If we can’t be content where we are now, it’s likely we won’t ever be content.
It’s easy to lose sight of the greenness of where we currently are because we’re comparing it to someone else’s “patch of grass,” or our own a few years down the road. Comparison is the enemy of contentment. I was comparing my patch of grass to the one God has promised to lead me to in the future: a career in youth ministry. In a world of 8ams and part-time jobs and homework assignments and everything else that comes with toiling through my 16th year of school, that future career became something like an idol.
It’s getting easier and easier to see college as the necessary first rung on the ladder of this career, not just a speed bump in the way. I’m still working on this one, if you couldn’t tell, and God is faithful to fill me with gratitude when I need Him to.
If singleness is your “patch of grass” and you’re having a hard time being content with it, click here!
Thanksgiving shines so much light into an otherwise gray and dusty world.
It reminds us that God gives amazing gifts. It brings us joy and contentment.
If you’re interested in making gratitude more of a habit, I included a section on gratitude journaling in this post.
God is so faithful. Sometimes we forget that, but His mercy exceeds our forgetfulness.
Until next time,
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