Once again, Thanksgiving has come upon us and so many of us are unsure how to respond to this holiday of thankfulness. Most of us are struggling with something at the moment, such as with financial issues or relationship problems. Our government seems to be falling apart as we helplessly watch the systems so many of us trusted crash and burn. People are falling ill. Jobs are being taken away. Relationships are dissolved.
It’s difficult to find a reason to be thankful in the midst of so much suffering, confusion, and downright messiness. But this holiday calls us to be thankful, and while we can sit and grumble at the dining room table, picking at our food and ignoring our incredibly non-PC family members, we can also decide to enter in with a spirit of gratitude, opening ourselves up to the way God might be speaking to our hearts this Thanksgiving.
Google’s definition of gratitude is “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Showing appreciation and returning kindness is difficult when our eyes are not focused on the correct things. When our eyes are fixed on temporal circumstances, it is as easy as pumpkin pie to feel ungrateful. If we encourage this lack of thankfulness in ourselves, constantly wishing for the next best material item or always thinking, “If I had a significant other/lost weight/gained weight/made more money/moved, things would get better”, we will become stunted. We will never see the beauty of the life that God has chosen to give to us, out of His pure love for us, His creation. When we approach life with a grateful heart, we will find that all areas of our lives will improve!
You may be thinking, Gabrielle, you don’t know what I’ve been through! I don’t even have a place to go for Thanksgiving. My parents are divorced. My family hates each other. Well, reader, we have more in common than you think. I, too, was faced with this difficult position of not having anywhere to go on Thanksgiving and I began inwardly grumbling about it. “Well, God, why don’t You help me here? I’ve been good! Take care of me!” Oh my, if only we thought more about what God has done than what we think He isn’t doing.
So how do we cultivate an attitude of thankfulness? It isn’t the most natural thing in the world; in fact it’s extremely difficult. It’s human nature to strive for more, to never be satisfied, to hold grudges against family members, to self-sabotage. But, with Christ, these behaviors will slowly fade away, as you let His Holy Spirit into these secret places of your heart. Let’s talk about practical ways we can develop our gratitude.
- Take some time and pray. Ask God about this. Talk to Him about your lack of gratefulness. Ask Him to increase it. Ask Him to open your eyes to what you do have right now.
- Grab a pen and some paper, or your phone or laptop, and write out a list of things you are grateful for at this moment. Start small and grow bigger. It may look like “Clothes, food, apartment, job, friends, and family.” What other things has God given you that you may be overlooking? Do you have two functioning legs? A lot of people don’t have those. Do your eyes see? Some people are blind. Can your brain process the letters you are writing and understand them? Some people are illiterate. As you keep writing, take a look outside of just yourself. What has God given to all humans? Air to breathe, water to drink, land to walk on. Ponder these things in your heart. My pastor said on Sunday, “God has made this world to function in love. He made all things in love. We have moments or seasons of suffering, but ultimately this world is about God’s great love.”
- Find practical ways to return that kindness our Google definition told us about. Returning kindness will mean pushing beyond your natural ability to be kind. We all know that all humans have fallen short of God’s glorious standard of behavior (Romans 3:23). We gossip, we don’t forgive, and we don’t care for others beyond what is comfortable for us. Think about the things you really don’t like doing. Maybe it’s talking to a homeless person, or even giving them your lunch. Perhaps you dislike your Aunt Sarah because she’s incredibly offensive with every word she says as you’re just trying to eat your turkey. Kindness toward her could be a gentle word or an internal moment of forgiveness.
Readers, if you find that you’re ungrateful this holiday season due to your circumstances, I want to encourage each one of you to realize that it’s a normal human response to difficult situations. Jesus Christ loves all of you so much that He took our failings, our shortcomings, our sins, upon His own perfect body and gave Himself up for us. He paid the price we couldn’t pay, because we’re just not perfect.
With His resurrection and His gift of forgiveness and salvation to all who will call on His name and lay down their lives for Him, you can begin to heal. The Holy Spirit, who dwells within each follower of Jesus, will empower you to have more patience than you thought possible. You’ll rejoice more every day, as you keep in step with Him. Ask Him to remind you of the things to be grateful for. That is a prayer God delights in.
Gabrielle is a Cum Laude graduate from CUNY Hunter’s English program. Being passionate about immigrants and refugees, she planned to pursue a certification in TESOL. Through teaching English to those who most need it, she expects to see more of God’s kingdom here on earth.