I know a family who recently had a beautiful baby, another who just moved into a gorgeous new house and one who just became debt-free. They are all brimming with gratitude!
But what about my friend who is lying in the ICU with cancer, and another whose wife just went on hospice and another couple who just lost a child? Is gratitude just a fading memory for them?
For most of us, gratitude is the result of having a higher score of positive things in our lives than negative. Imagine that we chalk up one point for every thing that goes well, and dock a point for those that don't go the way we want. Then (and only then) if the good outweighs the bad, we can muster up some gratitude.
This is a season to pause and express thanks, typically for all the blessings the Lord has showered upon us, none of which we deserve. But what if our scoring standard is based on a faulty premise? Or at best something that is only temporary?
When I lost my father to cancer, I didn't feel very grateful. But gradually, as the reality of God's promises and the solid hope of salvation started sinking in, my perspective changed. The pain was still there, but I was able to give thanks. Later I had the privilege of writing the book Goodbye for Now to offer practical help and hope for others who are losing or have lost a loved one, which can be especially tough this time of year.
Deep and lasting gratitude is not based on temporary situations, or anything we can touch or see in this world: bank account, body image, health, politics and so on. Our scoring system should reflect only what will last forever! And whenever we pause (not just at Thanksgiving) to claim God's promises freely offered through His Son Jesus Christ, our gratitude score goes through the roof!
I love how the prophet Habakkuk finally arrived at the same conclusion. Braced for a massive invasion, he dreaded they would lose everything, including their lives. Gratitude was nowhere on his radar! But after much wrestling in prayer, this is what he wrote:
"Though the fig tree does not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the yield of the olive fails, and the fields produce no food;
though the flocks are cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls—yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation" (Hab. 3:17-18).
And years later, Jesus instructed believers to "rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20).
There is nothing wrong with giving thanks for circumstances or possessions. In fact, it's always good to give thanks! However, the deepest and most fulfilling gratitude is not dependent on fleeting things. We need to ask ourselves, "Will I still be grateful for this thing in 100 years?" Is my gratitude based on happiness that is temporary, or eternal?
The family with the new baby and the family who just lost a child can all experience genuine gratitude, if they know the Lord and have received His lasting gift of forgiveness and salvation. It is possible to weep and give thanks at the same time. And 100 years from now our relationship with the Lord is the only thing that will matter—our true treasure. And because of God's grace, regardless of what our earth-bound gratitude score may look like, we are heaven-bound and can truly "rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!" (Phil. 4:4).
Welby O'Brien holds a master's degree in counseling from Portland State University and a teaching degree from Biola University, and based on her own life journey she has authored LOVE OUR VETS: Restoring Hope for Families of Veterans with PTSD (LoveOurVets.org), Goodbye for Now (grief support/preparation) and Formerly A Wife (divorce recovery). She is also a contributing author to Chicken Soup for the Soul: Divorce and Recovery, Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America, as well as Shepherding Women in Pain. Welby initiated and continues to facilitate the spouse and family support network known as Love Our Vets – PTSD Family Support, LLC. Join Welby and thousands of others on Facebook: Love Our Vets – PTSD Family Support, LLC. Connect with her online at welbyo.com.
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