The Effects of Gratitude

UG Twilight Tree

Thankfulness has been weighing heavily on my mind lately given everything we’ve been going through with our serious car accident, my health, and our foster daughter. With Thanksgiving this week, the topic has been on most people’s minds too though probably in a different way from mine.

My Facebook feed has been full of people listing the things they are thankful for as yours has also been, most likely. It is always encouraging to see other people focusing on how blessed they are this time of year; it has an effect of elevating the conversation because gratitude is contagious.

Or not.

It depends on what we are saying and how we are saying it. There are a lot of people I’ve noticed remaining silent in my feeds, or in conversations about thankfulness in my normal day-to-day life.

It can be a hard time of year for those who are feeling downtrodden, tired, sick, broke, or lonely.

Maybe I have never really noticed it before because I haven’t been looking very hard or maybe I’ve been too wrapped up in my own “thankfulness” to notice other people’s hurts. Maybe I’ve given the thought of thankfulness more thought this year because God hasn’t let me run away from it and reminds me of what I almost lost in an instant when I look at the scar on Luke’s forehead.

I am so incredibly thankful and even in the midst of all the pain right now, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude to God.

Things are hard, but I have Him and He has me.

When I was a kid, we would always list the things we were thankful for at our Thanksgiving dinner. I’m ashamed to say that often I would list only the material things we had. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being filled with gratitude for our material blessings and something is wrong if we aren’t. It is just that I missed out; there is far more.

I’ve been combating a bit of materialism that periodically raises its ugly head in our house. It happens about the time the Target or Toys R Us toy catalogue for Christmas arrives without fail every year. It is infectious and pretty soon we all are struggling ironically about the time Thanksgiving shows up.

My kids, laughably, think we are poor because they don’t have their own bedrooms. They think they are worse off because they don’t have a cell phone. They think more material things would bring them happiness. And to some degree, we all think this.

That is why we often are thankful for our homes, families, friends, and health. While not quite material in the common sense that we usually describe it, these are all things that we physically possess. They are things we see and they make our lives comfortable.

I’ve been wrestling with this since nearly losing my family. How much do I really trust God with them? Are they something I feel like I own? I saw they are God’s, but really, do I act like they are something that belongs to me to do as I will with or something that God has entrusted to me to care for? There is a difference.

It is this difference that has bothered me lately. The core of it is submission.

Paul wrote many of his letters from a jail cell. But read Ephesians and you would never know it, from his joyful tone.

His passion jumps off the page as he talks about how richly God has blessed us with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ”, how He chose us, how He loves us, adopted us, and lavishes upon us “the riches of His grace”. Read the whole first chapter and you’ll see what I mean.

It gives me chills just thinking about it. We are far richer than we believe we are

This isn’t a case of “perspective” like I’ve been treating it with my boys lately when I explain how rich we are comparably to the rest of the world. Comparative perspective will never change our hearts.

It is a case of needing to see things as God sees them.

I think this is why it is hard for those who are feeling lonely, tired, or who are hurting right now. As long as we see things through comparative perspective, we have only two choices: feel excited for other people’s blessings, or feel like we got the short end of the stick.

It is easy to hoard our physical blessings, to brag about them. Not so with Christ’s blessings.

That is why how we say things matters. Have we submitted, truly submitted, to Christ when we say it is all His anyway in reference to what we posses? I’m learning submission isn’t a one time things either as our family is walking a more difficult path than we’d like right now. But it is good.

Submission happens daily, hourly even. And in terrible moments, it can even be continual.

The exciting thing is that there is joy on the other end of submission. Joy can’t be touched by circumstances, just look at Paul. We have so much to be thankful for!

This gratitude changes us. Such is the nature of grace. Once we are touched by it, we will never be quite the same since it is redemptive and transformative. Our gratitude for our physical blessings falls into place within the framework of God’s plan. Such gratitude inspires peace and provokes action that is truly counter-cultural (for an example read this).

I suppose one of the biggest tests of how we view our blessings is do we hold them tightly and keep hoping for more or do we share them with the hurting? Can we share the inheritance God has waiting for us along with our material blessings?

It’s a question I’m asking myself and my kids this Thanksgiving. I have a feeling our hearts will be revealed about the time the pumpkin pie is gone and the Black Friday ads come out.

We might need some more submission and for this I’m thankful; God is offering us joy.


I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!



One thought on “The Effects of Gratitude

  1. It is pretty shameful at times how much we rely on and think that we need physical items–toys, games, phones, etc.
    And it is a time of year that it is hard to remember that people are more lonely or depressed often during the holidays


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