When I think of the holidays, I am surrounded by wood paneling with the smells of bacon grease and cake batter tickling my nose. I am at a long dining room table with absolutely no elbow room. I hear, “You ain’t ate much!” regardless of how much we ate. I hear constant chatter about family and old friends and at my holidays, there was always a little bit of picking at food and at each other. My heart gets a little squishy, even as I write this.
But… today, when I think about the holidays I am surrounded in an overcrowded grocery store with the smell of body odor attacking my nose. I am at a long checkout line with absolutely no movement. I wonder if I have holiday outfits for the kids. I wonder if I have forgotten an ingredient. I wonder when I will decorate for Christmas, only to hear constant bickering between children as I am surrounded by a kitchen full of dirty dishes. My heart starts to race, even as I write this.
Man, how things change when we become responsible… and I am a little ashamed as I write this. But I didn’t want a generic gratitude message for this week’s blog and I didn’t feel like I could ignore Thanksgiving either. So I really started thinking about gratitude and how it is seen in our lives.
We teach our children to say thank you even for the smallest gestures. We want them to be polite and of course have a heart of gratitude, but just teaching them to say thank you is not really enough. For our children to have a true heart of gratitude, it has to be modeled (which, yes, means we have to abide in gratitude as well.) So I started thinking… Do I grumble more than I show gratitude? Do I show gratitude toward my own children? OR do I even show signs of entitlement? Do I worry so much about what we don’t have or don’t have time for that my children and, even worse, the world miss the gratitude I may feel (as small as it seems sometimes). I mean, I don’t always have a heart of gratitude.
So what keeps me from abiding in gratitude? Because as I continue to explore the idea of abiding, I know gratitude has to play a huge part in that. The Bible has more than a few scriptures that touch on thanksgiving (which we will get to later) and you really can’t grow from the vine if you are constantly fussing about His provisions not being good enough (now, that one hurts). And while I am starting to feel really bad about this whole thanksgiving attitude, I don’t think it is intentional. I don’t think we are being ungrateful, but I do think we have several things – attitudes – in our lives that cloud and maybe even drowned out our grateful hearts.
So, let me ask again. What keeps us from abiding in gratitude?
Now, my worriers don’t want to hear this because not only am I talking about them, but they will now worry about the fact that they are worryers. I know, I am a recovering worrier. But let’s be honest here, even if it hurts a little bit, worry is the opposite of gratitude. It’s really hard to be genuinely thankful – I mean abiding in thanksgiving – and also worry. To be thankful means we recognize we have enough, but to worry focuses on all we lack.
I know, some situations seem to be impossible not to worry about. You are dealing with a chronic or life threatening illness. You have a prodigal child – or, goodness, you just have children in general. Maybe you have financial worries.
As a recovering worrier, the first situation that tested my new found faith was building a house. My wonderful father and husband took turns being lead contractor on the job. With the help of my father-in-law and some others, they did everything they possibly could. My husband was also in charge of the budget. More or less, everything was out of my control and most of the time I liked it like that. But something would happen, as it always does, and we would go over budget, both in time and money. My husband would pour and pour over the numbers, staying on top of it, and making sure we didn’t get to the end and not have enough. My gut instinct was to sit right next to him and fret. Many times I had to physically stop myself from worrying. I had to remind myself to trust in God. He had guided us to this position and He would show us the way out. I couldn’t show my faith in God’s plan while worrying if we had enough to cover our building project. I couldn’t thank Him for fulfilling my husband’s dream to live on family land while stressing over finances. To truly be thankful, I had to give it to God. I did have to remind myself, more than once, that God had this under control… He did and He proved it.
When we worry, we are sacrificing our peace. We are allowing the devil and the world to steal the gift of faith and peace from us and with it, our gratitude also goes. Colossians 3:15 tells us, “let the peace of the Messiah rule in your hearts,… and be thankful.” Peace leads to gratitude and as long as we are choosing worry over peace, we can never truly abide in thanksgiving.
What is holding your focus? Are you focusing on all that you don’t have? Are you focusing on all that you have to do? Kids? Cooking? Cleaning? Work? Are you focusing on a problem in your life?
I know there are some problems in our life that seem to demand our focus. Problems that seem to be staring us in the face every time you turn around. I understand we can’t just ignore the problems, hoping they will go away, but we can reframe them. Are you dealing with the loss of a loved one? Instead of letting the sorrow of their absence fill your mind, become lost in the joy you experienced while they were still here. Focus on and find thanksgiving in all the memories you shared. Are you experiencing financial problems? Instead of focusing on what you can’t afford, focus on all the things you have been able to buy. And focus on all the things you have that cannot be bought with money. Take some time to be grateful for all you have. Are you going through a divorce and surrounded by heartbreak? Instead of focusing on all the unrest this change is bringing into your life, focus on relying on God. Allow Him to feel that void and fall in love with Him because He will never cause that kind of pain in your life.
Life throws us curve balls, gives us lemons, and definitely gives us that piece of chocolate that looked good but turns out to be cherry coconut nastiness. Whatever you want to say, we have all been there. And in the midst of a holiday season, these trying times in our life sometimes seem worse. And when we focus on all the problems, all the things that aren’t like they used to be, all the things we are now missing, then yes it is going to be really hard to be grateful and twice as hard to truly abide in thanksgiving.
But 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” His will for our lives is that we would find a reason to be thankful in every circumstance of our life. He realizes, more than we ever will, just what this situation can do for us and our relationship with Him. Thanksgiving is the sugary sweetness that we can add to make our entire lives a little bit sweeter. But if we are focused on on the bitter places in our lives, we will never get there.
So this one is two fold. One, we have got to accept God’s full love for us and two, we have got to reflect that love to others. You cannot do one without the other and honestly, if we haven’t accepted God’s love over our lives, then I think that may be the reason why we worry and focus on all the wrong things. I know it can be difficult to grasp, especially when we look in the mirror and see nothing but flaws. But God loves us deeper than we could ever imagine, deeper than our little human brains can understand, deeper than these cheap words can ever explain. Sure, it may be something we have head knowledge of – we have read it in the Bible – but our heart still feels flawed.
And many of us certainly don’t live like we understand the depth of God’s love.
We try to satisfy ourselves with a number of things, from possessions to people to hobbies to even addictions, never stopping to focus on the fact that God’s love far outweighs all of those things. We keep looking for a never ending, always improving supply of something to keep us happy, but all we find are cheap imitations, leaving us dissatisfied and certainly ungrateful. But if we would stop and realize God’s love for us, really realize what it does to us, and for us then we would be nothing but grateful for the undeserved mercy and grace that comes with that love.
And what is even better than that is when we realize God’s love for us, we are so thankful that we want to work hard to show that love to others. We don’t judge who deserves what because we realize how undeserving we are. I begin to see myself in others. I see the mistakes and the flaws but I see the heart as well. I see the hurt and the desire to do better. I see what the love of God could do for other lives just like it has done for mine. John 15 says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in love.” When we abide in the love of Christ, it becomes our fruit. It becomes what we produce because we are growing from a love bearing vine. If we are truly abiding in Christ and all he is, love and gratitude should be two fruits that are continually produced from our branches.
But the next verse in John 15 brings this whole topic home. If says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Jesus wants us full. Full of joy and love and gratitude. Not full of worry and fear and discontent. And I know we all want to be grateful as well. No one is happy being ungrateful. But so many times we don’t realize what it is that is stealing our gratitude. So this week, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, stop and examine what facts may be keeping you from really abiding in thanksgiving. Is it worry? Are you focused on the wrong things? Or have you not accepted the true knowledge of what God’s love means in our lives?
In the comments, leave something you are thankful for. I love to read you input and feedback and what a blessing it would be to have a comment section full of gratitude!