I was tossing around a few ideas about what to post on the blog this week and asking God for guidance when I came across this quote by German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In his book "Life Together," he wrote:
Thankfulness works in the Christian community as it usually does in the Christian life. Only those who give thanks for the little things receive the great things as well. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts prepared for us because we do not give thanks for daily gifts. We think that we should not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be seeking the great gifts. Then we complain that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experiences that God has given to other Christians, and we consider these complaints to be pious. We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the small (and yet really not so small!) gifts we receive daily. How can God entrust great things to those who will not gratefully receive the little things from God's hand?
Gratefulness. Not just something to be expressed at Thanksgiving. In fact, in I Thessalonians 5, the apostle Paul wrote: "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."
Not bad advice. And, as a side note, this is one of the things I really like about Dietrich Bonhoeffer's and Paul's writings -- they are always practical.
But why is gratefulness so important? In my own life gratefulness helps me keep perspective. Say, for instance, I told one of my sons to trim the dead heads off of my flowers and to have it done before I return home. When I come back and look at my flower garden, I realize with great dismay that every flower head was cut off, including the good ones. Talk about a bad moment. I inflict my bad moment on the offending son and, after it's over, after I've calmed down, I take a breather and realize that the flowers will grow back. Am I happy about my son doing this? No. He didn't listen to directions. However, in the grand scheme of things, at least he's not out partying and behaving like a hooligan. I could have a lot more to worry about than a temporarily ruined flower garden. So, I have something for which to be thankful.
Gratefulness also helps me to forgive. For instance, if a friend of mine were to forget about a lunch date we had set and I sat in the restaurant for an hour waiting, I would be irritated. My friend, however, being the ditz that she can be, simply forgot. Since I love her and am thankful for all the good times we've had together, I can forgive her. Unfortunately, some people's greatest grievances are not forgetting lunch. They do things that hurt and cause great damage. How can you be grateful for someone or forgive someone who continually hurts you?
For this, I'm learning to apply the above scripture. "Be thankful in all circumstances." It does not say "for all circumstances." Has that friend done kind things for me in the past? Can I be thankful for that? Can that gratefulness help me to forgive? Or, do I need to ask the Lord for help? How do I treat this person afterward?
As a side note, I want to say that I truly believe that there can be healing and restoration in many relationships with God's help; however, when a person continually hurts me and doesn't have the slightest inclination to apologize (or mean it if they do), I need to stay away from that person. Why let them go on hurting me?
In this broken world, people have bigger things to worry about than some of the things I mentioned, like the flower garden. There is bankruptcy, illness, death, natural disasters and destroyed property, lack of financial resources for basic needs, loss of a job, divorce, miscarriages, betrayal, and on and on and on. The list could go on forever. What in the world would anyone going through just one of these situations have to be thankful for?
Good question. If you are going through a tough situation, what are you thankful for? Have you thanked God for the basic things that are easily taken for granted like a shower or bath; your spouse; a roof over your head, that first sip of hot coffee, or any of the other many small things that make life more pleasant despite the major problems?
If you struggle in this area, ask God to help. Ask God to make your heart overflow with gratefulness. This does not mean that you will be a Pollyanna, seeing everything through rainbow-colored glasses to the point that everyone around you wants to throw up. No, it just means that you'll be able to see something good in almost everything. At the very least, you'll know that God will be there to help in every situation no matter what happens. You will then be able to pass this encouragement on to others without even thinking about it. God will use a grateful heart. And isn't being used by God the best blessing of all?
Like Bonhoeffer said, we get so busy thinking about what we would like to receive rather than being grateful for what we have already received, that we prevent God from blessing us with more. Receiving more should never be our goal. Our goal should be to live in our present situation, thanking God for his gifts, no matter how small we think they are. If we do this, God will bless us, and we will be properly grateful. Thank God for his gifts!