Gratitude has more to do with our reactions to our circumstances than the actual circumstances. Gratitude starts within the heart. How easy to have a pity party and say, “Why me?” Once, I was struggling with despair and a dear friend responded to my self-absorption with, “Why not you?” This truth made me stop and think. I learned (which wasn’t easy or quick) to look at my obstacles as opportunities to see how God wanted me to change, what He was trying to teach me, and how I could foster a grateful heart. Gratitude is a training field requiring time, unconditional love and patience. Gratitude negates fear, anxiety and anger. Anger is the result of anxiety and fear. A trial can make us bitter or it can make us better! Trials add depth and lessons of learning to our story. Be careful. Keep calm. Do not be afraid. Do not lose heart. (Isaiah 7:4)
With Thanksgiving a few weeks away, now is the perfect time to focus on being thankful. Several weeks ago a friend shared how her family concentrates more on Thanksgiving than Christmas. Being thankful prepares our hearts for the season of joy that has become so commercialized we often forget its true meaning. Thankfulness and gratefulness negate selfishness and nips an attitude of entitlement in the bud year round. Start each day with a prayer of thanksgiving, no wants or needs, just a simple “thank you” for daily provision and for loved ones. This deliberate experience of gratitude motivates us to be kinder and more generous. Proverbs 23:7 hits home when we lose focus: “As a man thinks in his heart so is he.”
Grateful hearts exchange a spirit of despair for an attitude of joy
Grateful hearts do not grumble and complain but choose words to build up and encourage others. Choosing to encourage rather than complain is not always an easy feat to accomplish. When one of our children was younger, complaining was a part of everyday life. I prayed for wisdom. I prayed for patience. I prayed for a new love to develop within my heart for this child for whom nothing pleased. I realized the key to fostering gratitude in our home was role modeling. We first started by talking about contentment. Being content allows an attitude of gratitude to flourish. We are in our present circumstances because God desires us to be. God wants us to learn through our mistakes and change from the inside out. Being on the right track helps us run the race of life with perseverance. “Do everything without complaining, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe” (Philippians 2:14-15).
Southern Methodist University (SMU) conducted a survey several years ago using three groups of volunteers. Group One kept a list of daily complaints. Group Two listed how they were better off than others. Group Three wrote something daily they were grateful for. After three weeks, guess which group had more energy, less health problems, and a secure self-image? Small moments of gratitude fill our heart with lasting effects overflowing to others. “Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people” (Philemon 1:7 NLT).
Thankfulness promotes appreciation
If we practice three simple phrases in our homes, workplace and with friends, gratitude develops. These words cultivate consideration. Verbalizing the simple courtesies of “Please,” “Thank you,” and “May I?” form a foundation for thankfulness. Saying “please” displays respect; “please” changes a demand into a request. No matter how small the task, we love to hear, “thank you.” See how many times you can say “thank you” during the day. It enlivens family dinner conversation when we share to whom and why we said “thank you.” It is a lifetime positive influence for fostering gratitude. “May I?” is used more in family situations. Until children are off the payroll, they should go by the parents’ guidelines, not demand their own. These three simple phrases show good manners, consideration and respect for others. Clarence Thomas, a Supreme Court Justice said, “Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot.” Gratitude is a recipient of gratitude; gratitude changes the focus from “me” to “we.”
Try a new Thanksgiving tradition
If you desire to adopt a Thanksgiving family tradition, read one of the Presidential Proclamations during your family gathering. From George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, to George Bush, their words of wisdom and gratitude are part of the heritage families can claim as they gather around the table of feast. “When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you”(Deuteronomy 8:10 NLT).
When the turkey and mashed potatoes have been consumed and you’re settling in for pumpkin pie, be bold using these conversational starters: What is your best blessing this year? Share a favorite childhood memory or the tradition you cherish. Everyone has a funny or embarrassing moment to share or an interesting vacation moment. After the last morsel of pie has been consumed, show gratitude to your family and guests for making the day special (even if contention was present), by sharing Numbers 6:24-26, “May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace.”
My Thanksgiving preparations include artfully placing my pumpkin collection around our home and writing on a note card two verses, which guide my thoughts during the preparation. “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed” (Proverbs 16:3 NLT). “He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king as a friend” (Proverbs 22:11 NLT). May this month of Thanksgiving foster gratitude in all the hearts surrounding your table! “Blessed are those who are generous (Proverbs 22:9 NLT).
Vickie Estler is a monthly speaker at MOM/Moms on a Mission at Rio Vista Community Church, For Lauderdale. Ponder the “weekly 7” (a verse a day encouraging families) on her blog ponder365.com