You may or may not be familiar with this situation, but I know it all too well. It is Thanksgiving. All of the food has been passed around the table, and everyone has had their fill. Just before dessert is served, one of the old people at the table (Grandmother, Grandpa, Uncle Joe Manheimer or Great-Grandpapa) asks everyone to say what they are thankful for. They look around the table, and, oh, just because, they ask you to go first. “Well…uhhhhhh…I’m thankful for…air…’cause…y’know…we breathe it…and…uh…”
It’s not easy being thankful on the spot. It’s often quite difficult to truly understand what we have to be thankful for. Sure, there are plenty of things in our lives we appreciate, but when someone asks us on the spot, “What are you thankful for?” sometimes those things do not come to mind. Maybe because, like me, we as humans have a hard time understanding how to be thankful. Before we can have thanksgiving in our hearts, we must open the doors with gratitude. Gratitude is a virtue, a continual practice or habit that can improve our lives emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. Gratitude is not a result. It is the necessary first step to a heart of thanksgiving. We all have things to be thankful for. 1 Timothy 4:4 reads, “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (NIV). We all have gifts in our lives, but we do not yet know how to see them. Before we can be thankful for the gifts in our lives, we have to first change our perspective on those gifts.
Gratitude is an attitude and lens through which we can perceive our world. Take a moment to experience what happens when we apply this lens when looking at our sun. Our sun appears much more beautiful and appreciable in our eyes when we consider how it sustains life on earth. Yes, it is blinding, lazy enough not to stay in the sky all day and so tired it might go out soon, but everything has its flaws. The lens of gratitude acknowledges these flaws, but it does not dwell on them. This lens of gratitude is impossible to obtain or sustain. As humans, we are flawed, and with our flaws comes our own bend in the lens. Our focal point is either offset too far ahead, and we only care about what the future holds for us, or our focal point is offset too far inward, and we only care about what this gift can do for us. Either way, an offset focus leads to an us-centered perspective.
A life of gratitude creates a foundation for thankfulness. We cannot be thankful for anything until we have first learned to appreciate something’s place in our everyday life. When it comes to our Thanksgiving tables, what causes this sudden “I don’t know what I’m thankful for” reaction is we have not first found in ourselves a habitual attitude of gratitude. When we try to force an answer of thankfulness without first learning to appreciate our lives, we stumble over ourselves in realization that we are trying to bring about something that is not there. There is no way for us to achieve this continual perspective of gratitude on our own. No amount of wealth or status will bring about this lens. Only through our beloved Father in Heaven are we able to see through a fraction of this lens. Such is the same with all other virtues, but it is especially strong for gratitude.
In 1 Corinthians Paul asks his followers, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ?” (10:16, NIV). For us to truly change our hearts and accept the gifts our Father has given us, we must first accept the grace of the cross. Grace is one of the hardest gifts for us to accept because we do not deserve it. We choose not to accept it because to accept it means we truly have nothing worth offering. When we admit this, we see we have everything to be thankful for because everything we have has been given to us, our worth, our talents, our skills, our relationships, our salvation.
We are prideful and ignorant creatures. We choose to see things the way we tell ourselves they are, and we easily bring about our own detriment with this vision. Only through the eyes of Christ, the One who laid down His life for all mankind, free of charge, no catch, no loopholes, no clauses, will we ever be able to see the gifts in our lives with gratitude. Paul writes to his fellow followers, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Colossians 3:16, NIV).