With November in full force, Thanksgiving upon us, and the holiday season in full swing, we may find ourselves asking, “What does it mean to be thankful? What exactly is it that I’m thankful for? How do I grow in gratitude?”
I find it easy to be thankful when things are running smoothly. When my life is going well, when bills are paid, the laundry is done, and the kids are getting along, gratitude comes easily. But to be honest with you, it is unusual for things line up so perfectly. Life is rarely so seamless. And as painful as it is to admit, I am not a naturally a grateful person. This is something that I have struggled with and something that I have been working on since becoming a Revelation Wellness Instructor. Most days I wake up to a dirty kitchen, toys and throw pillows all over the living room floor, no milk in the fridge, and an empty roll of toilet paper in the bathroom that no one has taken time to fill again. It is hard for me to be grateful and rejoice in ALL circumstances as the Bible instructs us.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” -James 1: 2-4
So what happens when life is not easy? When it seems like everything is going wrong? When things are just not fun and life is stressful? Is it even possible to be grateful in ALL
circumstances, good and bad?
I heard a pastor once say, “We love the mountaintop moments– those moments when you literally feel like you just climbed the biggest and toughest mountain of your life. And maybe you literally have climbed the biggest and toughest mountain of your life. You feel so accomplished and proud. It’s a fantastic feeling. But those great mountaintop moments will not last forever. Mountaintop moments are temporary highs. We were not made to live and thrive on mountaintops. They are temporary, and God designed it that way!”
True living actually occurs down in the valleys. That is where we find the streams of living water flowing, sustaining all of life. It is there in the trenches filled with mud and muck that we find and encounter God in the most profound and personal ways. Suffering, struggling, pain, and discipline are frequent in the Christian life, producing perseverance and preparing us for the blessings and promises that are to come. Suffering keeps us humble, and teaches us to cry out to our King and learn to rely on him.
When I have wanted to give up because it all felt “too hard” and the mountain I was facing was just “too big,” but persevered instead, was when I encountered the mercy and unconditional love of Father God the most. When I am weak and aware of my weakness, God shows up and does miraculous things. When we struggle we realize we are ALIVE and we begin to see God’s beautiful purposes through all of it, making us more like Christ. As we press on with faith in Christ, often when the growing pains of struggle and change are the most intense, the beauty comes in the midst of it all.
“But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” -2 Corinthians 12: 9-10
Growing in gratitude– being thankful for all of life, the good and the bad– is a sign of spiritual maturity. We understand that life is not perfect. We see that abundant life in Christ does not occur only on mountaintops, but mostly (and especially) in the valleys. It’s realizing that as Christians, suffering and persecution are inevitable. It’s there that we become more like Christ.
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” -Romans 5: 3-4
Growing in gratitude is a continual process without a specific formula. It takes practice,
mindfulness, honesty, and humility. A spiritually mature person knows that gratitude can absolutely be found in hard places. They know who they are and Whose they are, and they know that nothing on Earth can change those realities. They have a clear-eyed focus on the big picture, which is eternity with God. They live as royal daughters and sons to the King Most High, shining so brightly that others can see Him as they live. They are thankful for the ups and downs, the good days and bad days, knowing that ALL of it is a sheer and glorious gift.