Choosing Gratitude

I am afflicted with a condition that I understand many men have. I often cannot see what is right in front of my face. The can of soup I’m looking for in the pantry mysteriously disappears when I go to retrieve it. I’m perplexed and frustrated. And then my wife steps in and produces it out of thin air. How is that possible? To my embarrassment, it isn’t a mere coincidence. 

Somehow, she can see what is there. I look, and if it is not where I imagined it should be, or if it is a different color or shape than I assumed, or not moving, blindness settles in. Items in plain sight vanish. I experience this while searching for socks, medicine, keys, and books more often than I care to admit. 

But I’ve come to see that it also is a condition that affects my soul.

Blind to What I Have

I am naturally programmed to focus my attention on what I cannot see—that is, what is not immediately in my grasp. My mind is alert to comparing my status, career, possessions, education, relationships, experiences, and health to those around me. Often, however, I come out on the short end. What I have doesn’t seem enough and I become agitated. This blinds me to what I do possess. I don’t see what I really have. And sometimes It’s not necessary to compare myself to anyone; I just see everything in my life and all that’s around me as wrong.

When our family has a financial need, my tendency is to then focus on the many other things that are not ours. Something breaks in our house that I cannot immediately afford to repair, and my eyes then zero in on the walls that need to be painted, the deck that needs to be sanded and stained, the roof that will soon need to be replaced and I feel myself slipping into depression. What I fail to take in and savor in those moments is that we’ve actually been blessed with a house to live in! 

What a terrible sickness this is!

Opening My Eyes

Gratitude is a way of seeing. It’s a lifestyle choice and skill that followers of Jesus must master. If we don’t, we are in danger of not seeing God Himself when He’s right in front of us. Choosing the discipline of daily and even moment-by-moment thanksgiving opens my eyes to things to which I was previously blind.

There are so many references in the Bible to thanksgiving that it’s hard to know where to begin. My go-to passage is Psalm 100:3-4:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving;

Go into his courts with praise.

Give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the LORD is good.

His unfailing love continues forever,

And his faithfulness continues to each generation.

I love how these verses present thanksgiving as a ticket that gets me into God’s presence. It’s also what precedes seeing His goodness, faithfulness and love. When I choose to focus on what I have been given rather than on what I do not possess, there’s an atmospheric change that takes place around me. Thanksgiving is a spiritual instrument and, at times, even a weapon that breaks down unseen forces pressing in on me, my family and community. 

A Powerful Tool

I have seen the effectiveness of giving thanks work countless times in groups I have led. A heavy, lethargic dullness consumes my team. I have them declare one thing for which each is thankful. There are frowns and groans and we barely make it around the circle, some merely acknowledging their indebtedness to oxygen—but it’s a start. Shocked and irritated eyes glare when I instruct them to go around again. By the third and fourth circuit, things are moving faster, and something is changing. We’re seeing outside ourselves. We’re observing each other differently. We’re getting closer to the presence of God, and we’re more aware of His goodness than we were before.

The question I ask myself over and over is, why don’t I choose thanksgiving more often? It’s a fantastic tool and a very effective spiritual weapon. The answer I’ve come to is that I still tend to associate a thankful heart with an emotion I have no control over. But the feeling doesn’t randomly show up on its own. It needs to be invited despite the many opposing emotions I carry. It’s a choice—a spiritual discipline. 

My wife and I recently tested positive for COVID-19. Besides enduring an extended time of headaches, body aches, sore throat, and chills, all our plans for family holiday get-togethers have been dashed. My attitude has felt dark. And yet it is the perfect opportunity to exercise what this season is meant to focus on.

I can daily decide to operate out of a “thank-full” heart. I can choose to see what I really have been given–and it’s a lot!

Thanksgiving may not help me find my eyeglasses when I misplace them or make my COVID symptoms disappear any faster. But it will surely enable me to see the world more clearly in the light of God’s presence and goodness no matter the circumstances. And that’s something to be grateful for.

Try it! Choose gratitude. You have been given more than you think.

Response

  • What am I experiencing today that is eclipsing the beauty and goodness God has hidden around me?
  • How might viewing thankfulness as an elusive emotion hinder me from embracing it as a discipline or a choice? What do I need to change?
  • What are the things around me that I normally don’t acknowledge that are enriching my life?
  • What are steps I can take to make gratitude a daily part of my life?
  • Jesus what needs to happen for my eyes to be opened?

Edited and reposted from November 25, 2019

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