I want to start out by saying that I love Christmas. It is, by far, my favorite holiday of the year. My primary love language is gifts, so when I see packages, boxes, or bags under our Christmas tree with my name on them, I feel loved and cared for.
There is just something magical about the Christmas season.
But I think we have a problem. Our American society seems to have made it a tradition to skip right over Thanksgiving. We jump from Halloween right into Christmas. Go into any store the day after Halloween and they already have Christmas decorations up and Christmas-y things for sale. We have completely skipped over a season meant for reflection and giving thanks and jumped right into a season where we want to get more stuff. Thanksgiving, once a cherished event, has been relegated to a time when businesses can hold special sales to make more money. It kind of feels like it’s been pushed down to President’s Day status but with more food.
Now, this isn’t an indictment of Christmas. It is my favorite holiday, remember? I’m not hating on you if you already have your Christmas tree up and I’m not going to stop you from listening to Christmas songs all day long.
Instead, what I want to do is to help us remember. To help us not move so fast that we forget to be grateful. This whole Thanksgiving season is intended for us to slow down and take the time to look at our lives and remember all the good things we already have. It’s a time set aside, on purpose, to give thanks.
This is a call to gratitude.
What is Gratitude?
Gratitude is, simply put, thankfulness. If you were to look up the word in the dictionary you would see “gratitude” is defined as “the state of being thankful.” But that definition feels so cold. So detached. So … generic. There has got to be a better way to explain what gratitude is.
Gratitude is what you would feel if someone brought you a cup of coffee in the morning without you having to ask or pay for it. “Here, I made this for you” makes you feel grateful on the inside. Someone thought of you … and their thought included coffee (or whatever your morning beverage of choice happens to be).
Gratitude is what the woman feels when she’s carrying six bags and a baby and someone stops what they were doing to help her carry something. “Can I help you?” generates a feeling of thankfulness in her heart because someone actually saw her struggle and was willing to help.
We often associate saying “thank you” with being grateful. We should say “thank you” as an outward expression of an inward feeling of gratitude. Saying “thank you” is never wrong. But gratitude is more than just words. It’s easy and expected to say “thank you” when someone holds the door open for you, but how many of us actually feel grateful for that gesture? Real gratitude comes from your heart.
Why is it Important?
Being grateful has so many benefits. First all of, gratitude breaks the back of self-centeredness. A life that is all about you and what you want is a sad and lonely existence. You are only focused on yourself and what you think you deserve. The world has you at its center. But gratitude requires that you put the focus on someone else. You literally can’t be at the center when you’re feeling grateful towards another person. Anything you think you might deserve gets pushed down when gratefulness for something bubbles up to the top.
This holds true for any of the other “self-” prefixed emotions as well. Self-pity, self-absorption, self-loathing, etc. The reason they all have “self” in the word is that they are all focused on you. When you start to realize that you have other people and things in this world to be thankful for, the focus of your life starts to shift. Your feelings, emotions, and problems, while still important, can start to take a backseat to other people. That’s a much healthier place to be.
There are a myriad of actual, physical health benefits that occur when you’re grateful as well. According to studies*, feelings of gratefulness have been linked to better sleep, less overeating, lowered feelings of depression, less aches and pains, better relationships, and increased overall health and happiness. That sounds like something worth being thankful for.
What Does the Bible Say About Gratitude?
There are many Bible verses that talk about giving thanks, especially giving thanks to God for all He’s done and for all He’s given us. He should get all the glory and all the praise. Without Him we would have nothing. I think though, for our purposes, I just want to focus on this one set of verses:
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
— 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18, NIV
Rejoice always. Always, really? I’d be willing to bet that the majority of us don’t rejoice once a day, let alone always. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t do this. Gratefulness is not a category that I run around thinking in. I’ve got that “self-“ prefixed word problem we discussed earlier. What we’re being called to here is a lifestyle of gratitude. All the time, in every way possible, finding something to be grateful for.
In all circumstances. This tells me that in every situation, no matter what, I should the thankful. No matter what I’m going through, there is always a place for gratitude. I’ve seen people do this. I’ve heard people who are going through cancer or other horrible situations say that they thank God for the burden they get to carry. This is what we are to do as well. Again, I’ll admit that I struggle with this one. But if gratitude is to be a lifestyle, then I can’t just be grateful when things are good. I have to always be grateful…no matter the situation.
This is God’s will for you. Many people ask “What is God’s will for my life?” This verse makes at least part of that answer easy. God wants us to be thankful all the time. Knowing this is God’s will doesn’t make being continually grateful easier, but it does make the idea of doing so have a purpose. If we couple the idea that a lifestyle of gratitude is God’s will with all the health benefits we mentioned before then we can deduce that it’s also God’s will that we sleep well, have better relationships, and are generally healthier and happier. That sounds like what a good Father would want for His children, doesn’t it?
So, let’s wrap this up. I know I started out this post by sort of ranting about Christmas running roughshod over the Thanksgiving season. As we’ve seen, it’s healthy to have time set aside to purposefully remember the things that we have to be thankful for. But the larger truth here is this:
Gratitude doesn’t have to be stored up and released just on Thanksgiving Day. We don’t have to save it up all year and then just show it to others in the month between Halloween and Thanksgiving. Instead, gratitude can be a lifestyle. We unlock something supernatural in our lives when we follow God’s will to be grateful all of the time, every day, no matter the circumstances. That’s where the real power lies.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include some things that I’ve been thankful for lately: my wife and children, my family, the friends we’ve made (and are making) through our local community theatre, my team at NewSpring, the ability to write this blog, the breath in my lungs, and beef. I’m pretty much always thankful for beef.