August 2006 134

Thankful One Day a Year?

When someone opens a door for you, the appropriate response is to say, “Thank you.”—it’s just common courtesy. Though we often say these ordinary words without any emotion—or real heart-felt meaning.

Why do we say Thank You?

The value of saying those words goes far beyond just making polite remarks to really becoming a thankful person. As you say “Thank you,” it changes you deep inside, giving you a new perspective on your life.

At times, we don’t necessarily feel thankful, but we may not feel unthankful either—like some kind of neutral zone. But as for our hearts: there is no in-between. We are either a thankful person or we are not. We can be thankful for some things and still not be a thankful person at our core. That seemingly neutral place is a place of complacency or apathy—which is a dangerous place to be.

Some of the most thankful and happy people I know live with almost nothing in huts with dirt floors, surviving on very little food, without cell phones, other entertainment, or even electricity. They have so little, yet they are thankful. Thankfulness is an attitude of the heart that goes beyond circumstances or possessions—it is an attitude that we choose despite our current situation, no matter how dire .

 

When I was a little girl, I received a beautifully wrapped box from my favorite aunt. She was my hero, and she was a seamstress who could make anything. I looked at the gift with anticipation and excitement for what might be inside then I ripped it open, only to be disappointed and embarrassed—it was a pair of lacy underwear.  I’m sure she could have seen it on my face—the gift was not what I wanted.

My focus was on me: I was conflicted between guilt for not feeling grateful and my selfish desires for a gift that I wanted and thought I deserved. I had been taught to “be thankful,” so I chose to say the words: “Thank you.”  The feelings followed the action, and after I got over the embarrassment of showing my new underwear to all my cousins—boys and girls—I became thankful.

In later years, I talked to my aunt about the gift. She explained that having grown up during the Depression, she had always wanted a nice pair of underwear, but couldn’t afford it. For her, to purchase me any gift for Christmas was a sacrifice, as her family lived on a small salary. If I had understood true thankfulness, I would have cherished that gift much more , despite the embarrassment it caused.

We have all been there. Maybe it is our current circumstances that we don’t want to be thankful for, or maybe a tough relationship. We rationalize our lack of gratitude, thinking, “How can I be thankful for this?”

We can become thankful, though, by taking our focus off of ourselves and making a concentrated effort to be thankful to God.

Paul wasn’t in the comfort of a castle somewhere, playing video games, when he wrote: “Give thanks in all circumstances.” He was in prison, in terrible and uncertain circumstances.  At a whim, he could have been beaten, starved, bitten by rats, or put to death. He went even further, writing, “For this is God’s will for you.”  It isn’t often we know God’s will so clearly.

Since this is God’s will for us, we need to give up our arguing and complaining and trade it for “giving thanks in all circumstances.” As we choose to model this in our lives, we become thankful people every day of the year, not just one.

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