I believe it’s impossible to experience heart-felt gratitude unless we have first known deprivation and need.
I never appreciated someone’s loyalty as much as after I was betrayed; my dependence on others until those I relied on had shirked their responsibility; the value of necessities until after I had struggled to make ends meet; and the warmth of a smile until it followed a season of rejection.
But, oh how we resist trials and complain about what we don’t have! Why should we have to do without when the person next to us has it so easy? We agonize over how our parents treated us, bad relationships, lack of possessions, or missed opportunities.
I also believe that we can’t develop healthy relationships and have real joy in our heart without first learning to be thankful. And if gratitude grows from the difficulties we face in life, then we should also be grateful for trouble. Really?
Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
James 1: 2-3
No, I’m not advocating we go looking for trouble. Not to worry — it always finds us anyway — for sin reaches to the farthest corners of the earth, and no one can escape its effects. But God has made it possible that all darkness can turn to light. This transformation is not just a mental exercise or state of mind, although surely dysfunctional thinking figures into our suffering. It is possible because He is Lord of the Universe and He gave us His Son, Jesus Christ.
In this world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.
Who Needs God, Anyway?
I wonder if part of the problem we have with expressing gratitude toward God is that we have received so much without first having been deprived of it. If you’re reading this blog, then you must be alive. Very few have lost their lives and regained them, but the few I know of feel intense gratitude for life.
Creation, from the vast universe to the atom, is utterly amazing. Yet we trivialize it by asserting its complexity as the result of random processes.
We think of our talents and abilities as things we’ve acquired through personal effort, forgetting how we were born with the potential and nurtured by others. Eventually, we can trace back all we claim as our own to God’s hand.
Then there is the offer of salvation from sin, adoption as God’s children, and eternal life. But if you don’t recognize that you’re lost and need saving, why should you desire it or seek it? Even the “saved” can presume on God’s mercy and goodness.
The secular world works overtime to blind and confound us when it comes to Jesus Christ. We are told to have faith that science can explain and solve everything when it really can’t. The world tries to turn people from God by pointing at Christians who succumbed to sin, while it ignores those who have heroically prevailed. It casts Christians as intolerant and either hypocritical or naive. It distorts the truth into something no intelligent person should want to believe.
Is there any wonder as to why we are short on gratitude? We take for granted what has been given to us and are then pressed to feel guilty or foolish if we try to acknowledge The Giver.
Our Children Are Entitled, Aren’t They?
If deprivation plays a role in developing gratitude, health, and joy, might we be doing our children a disservice with current parenting practices? But it’s so much fun to see our children and grandchildren enjoy the next new toy or experience before they’ve even tired of the last one. We don’t allow children to fail and learn to overcome obstacles. We tell them what we think they need to hear to build their self-esteem. We rescue our children, even when they become adults, instead of letting them figure things out. Could it be that our desire for their success is leading us to poison opportunities for them to develop thankfulness and resilience? Might we instead build a sense of entitlement — the very antithesis of gratitude?
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Thankfulness is fundamental to psychological, spiritual, and societal health. Gratitude is essential to continual prayer and union with God. Being thankful isn’t hard, but it does require a change of heart and mind and needs to be nurtured.
Be Thankful for Gratitude is part of a series on practices that promote psychological and spiritual health.