We teach them to our children as the magic words: “Please” and “Thank you.” We prompt our kids to be polite: “Thank you, Mrs. Greene, for having me over.”
Most of us automatically say “thank you” many times a day. You probably say it when you get change at the store. You respond with a “thank you” when someone says, “bless you” after you sneeze. I’ve have even been known to say “thank you” on those very rare occasions, that a police officer has handed me a speeding ticket!
The Bible says to give thanks with a grateful heart. Ideally, Giving thanks and having a grateful heart go hand in hand. We feel grateful, and then we find a way to show our gratitude by giving thanks.
This past week I have been thankful. I spent the past week with my family in Florida on vacation. It has been awhile since I have spent significant time with my family. We find ourselves separated by distance and busy lives. So it is wonderful to have fun, play, rest and relax with my family.
I have also had an opportunity to spend time thinking about what it means to be grateful and how I can give thanks for the people that I love dearly. I think that God has hardwired the universe around the idea of thankful hearts because it put us in the right attitude towards God and each other.
But it is not always easy, sometimes it is hard for us to give thanks and show our gratitude for others. There are four reasons why we may struggle.
First, we’re not satisfied with what we have. We are always looking for the next thing that will really satisfy us. We may spend an evening giving thanks for the things we have, but then we get up at five in the morning to score incredible bargains during Black Friday.
How can you feel satisfied in order to give thanks for what you have already?
Second it is hard to give thanks is because whatever it is, is not perfect. For example, instead of thanking my kids for the chores they complete, I often end up fussing about the part that was left undone. “You didn’t wipe the counter!” “The socks aren’t folded yet!”
Sometimes we don’t take the time to fill our hearts with gratitude and give thanks for what is good, even if it’s not perfect, even if we still have a ways to go. I tend to be a perfectionist, and it’s easy for me to hard on myself or hard on others, when really, there is usually so much more good than bad, so many more blessings than bothers.
Third is that we often take so much for granted. We come to expect a certain standard of living, and we even begin to think that we are “entitled” to enough money, or good health, or loyal friends.
Sometimes we get especially frustrated with our “blessings” disappoint us. I get easily frustrated when I have my car in the shop, which is, no doubt, an inconvenience, but how often do I take the time to give God thanks that I have a car in the first place?
Earlier this year I was happing package food for the weekend backpack program. There were over 80 volunteers helping with this effort. One of the individuals told me, “There was a time when I had to get my food from the food pantry. Now I’m just happy I can give back.”
That woman didn’t take her blessings for granted. She had a grateful heart, and she turned her gratefulness into a generous act of thanksgiving.
Finally, one final reason I think we often don’t give thanks is simply — It takes time. And too often we are time starved and busy. Sometimes we are so busy that giving thanks in some tangible way can feel like more of a chore than an outpouring of gratitude.
There is no way around it, cultivating gratitude and engaging in true acts of thanksgiving take time. Not a lot of time. But time. It’s a spiritual discipline and it can be so difficult to do!
But there are ways that we can make it happen on a regular basis. It is often one of the first things I suggest to someone who has come to me for counseling because life is difficult or they are starting to feel depressed.
I suggest that you make a list of all the things you are thankful for. Get past “family, friends, and shelter” and think of the things we quickly over look, take for granted, or that aren’t perfect. Actually write them down. Then offer those thanksgivings to God in prayer. Do this spiritual exercise often.
Maybe on that list, you’ll see some relationships you are thankful for. Maybe it’s time to pick up the phone and call your old friend, or your mother-in-law. Did you give thanks for the care you received from your recent doctor’s visit? Did you pause to thank God for the everyday miracles of nature you have witnessed?
You can show your gratitude with acts of giving – like the woman who helped package food, or like so many of you, who are finding ways to help and give back during Thanksgiving or Christmas.
You can show your gratitude by writing a note to someone who has done something for you, even a small thing. You can give thanks to God and others through service, volunteering in the church or in the community.
It can even be important to give thanks to God for the ways that our challenges help us to rely on God and each other, knowing that we can’t do this life alone.