In this Thanksgiving and Christmas season, we often use words like thankful, grateful, generous, giving and “in the spirit of the holidays.” In our minds, we paint mental pictures of what those words represent. At the same time, our past memories of this season may cause us to have a confusing mixture of emotions: anticipation or dread, hope or pain, peacefulness or uneasiness, happiness or sadness, celebration or loneliness.
Thanksgiving is a time in which we give thanks with our words and gather family and friends around the table. We find ourselves thinking and talking about our Christmas shopping and plans.
Closely associated with thankfulness is gratitude. Expressions of gratitude in our life can be a possible indicator of our emotional and mental health. Unfortunately, gratitude can quickly be replaced by anger, unforgiveness, anxiety, fatigue, stress or selfishness. Gratitude may be impacted by our circumstances, but it does not have to be defined by our circumstances.
In general, grateful people are more pleasant to be around and have healthier social interactions. Gratitude is rarely expressed in a person who feels entitled and is self-absorbed. We like it when people express gratitude to us for what we have done for them. If we like being on the receiving end of gratitude, are we also on the giving end? Are we purposefully expressing gratitude to others?
Gratitude communicates appreciation, and appreciation builds bridges of communication. If we have nothing to be grateful for, our worldview is very limited. Gratitude needs to be more than just an emotional feeling, because feelings come and go. Gratitude needs to be a mental choice that is cultivated through practice.
Parents, teachers and childcare providers enjoy a grateful child much more than a spoiled one. If we want to see gratitude in our children, gratitude must be modeled by the adults. We need to help our children learn how to be grateful.
Expressing gratitude gives us an opportunity to be creative in how we encourage others. It will help us to think about the feelings and needs of others.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenges us with a different value system than that of the world. Many of His words require us to think about the attitude of our hearts and the perspective of His kingdom.
When we are offended by others and don’t forgive, we shut down an attitude of gratitude. So often we start with a statement like, “I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but…” If we find ourselves saying something like that, we are probably on some level keeping score. It is dangerous to keep score instead of offering forgiveness. Jesus called us to forgive again and again. If we have trouble doing this, we may need to remind ourselves to be grateful for His forgiveness and daily mercy in our lives.
One last thought in this Thanksgiving and Christmas season. Luke 17:11-19 is the story of Jesus healing 10 men with leprosy. This is not a passage that is normally associated with this time of year. Take time to read this passage and notice in verses 18 and 19 how gratitude, faith and healing came together.
May we have grateful hearts to the Lord!