Thanksgiving is a moment when you pause and get intentional about gratitude. Your Facebook friends provide a month's worth of "Thankful for..." status updates, your family circles up before the meal to name their object of gratitude, you serve at a homeless shelter to make sure your kids understand, "You better be thankful!" I love Thanksgiving. I love the family, the food, the football. I love when we focus on what we have rather than pouting about what we lack, but I'm convinced that as Christians gratitude is in our DNA. We live grateful LIVES. Gratitude expresses appreciation for what you have received in word and action. When you really come to grips with the love of God, the New Creation in Christ, and the resurrection of Christ in your life you might as well eat turkey everyday. Grateful people have joy, are free to fully enjoy others, and live more satisfied lives. Here are a few things gratitude provides:
- Contentment. Our over-advertised, consumer focused culture is in the business of creating dissatisfaction. Television, the Internet, radio, newspapers...on and on whisper, actually shout at you, "You are not content!" But, a grateful life makes a content life. It focuses on what you have rather than what you lack, and acknowledges, "It is enough!" Contentment keeps you centered. It leads to peace. It slows down the relentless desire to prove yourself. It helps you appreciate the greenness of your own yard.
- Optimism. Debbie Downer is an old Saturday Night Live character. She rained on any parade. In one sketch, taking place at a Disney World Breakfast, her companion says, "I love steak and eggs!" To which Debbie replies, "Ever since they found Mad Cow disease in the U.S. I'm not taking any chances. It can live in your body for years before it ravages your brain." (Waaah-Waaah!). By the end of every bit she has dampened the mood of everyone present. Negativity is a virus. It is contagious. It seriously threatens any organization, especially churches. Everyone has seasons of negativity, but a spirit of gratitude makes it hard to remain negative. Gratitude does not minimize the toil of life but it chooses to focus and dwell on the full side of life. It is fertile ground for optimism.
- Celebrating Others. Once gratitude fosters contentment, it frees you to celebrate the joys of others. Does this scenario hit home: One of your co-workers, your friend, gets the promotion you wanted. You kindly pat her on the back and say congratulations but inside you tell yourself, "That should have been me! I work a lot harder than she does!" And despite your words you really are not happy for her. OR You find yourself resenting some of your best couple friends and their "little brats" because their children are making the grades you want your kid to make, playing first chair while your kid struggles to hit a note, getting player of the week when the coach cut your kid from the team. Without gratitude you won't find contentment, and without contentment you tend to resent rather than celebrate others.
- Generosity. If dissatisfaction and competition define your life then you will find generosity an obstacle. You may give, but such a "generosity" is simply "goodness competition" - doing your acts of righteousness before others to be seen by them. But gratitude that leads to contentment breeds a generous spirit. Take God as the ultimate example. He competes against no one. He does not seek "More," and he is radically generous! For God so loved the world that he GAVE!