I used to picture “gratitude” kind of like a cheerleader. She was the bright-eyed emotion bouncing into the winning moments of my life:
“Hooray! Graduation at last—thank God!”
“Yes! A trip to the beach—I’m sooo grateful!”
“Oh thank goodness the baby is sleeping through the night!”
It wasn’t until the heartache of life began to line my eyes with wrinkles that I learned gratitude is no cheerleader. If she were, only the shallowest of people would celebrate her. But I’ve seen gratitude shining in the eyes of a mom who once buried her baby. I’ve heard gratitude flowing from the lips of a wife abandoned by her husband. I’ve watched gratitude showered over beautiful children born with devastating disabilities. And here on this blog, created by a woman battling the painful effects of cerebral palsy, I’ve discovered a stockpile of gratitude so vast it seeps out of every post.
[clickToTweet tweet=”It wasn’t until the heartache of life began to line my eyes with wrinkles that I learned gratitude is no cheerleader.” quote=”It wasn’t until the heartache of life began to line my eyes with wrinkles that I learned gratitude is no cheerleader.” theme=”style1″]
What is the secret to gratitude? For starters gratitude is a discipline, not an emotion. As believers we’re not called to feel gratitude so much as fight for it. “Give thanks in all circumstances,” Paul commands, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:18). If gratitude was a person, I imagine she wouldn’t be a cheerleader; she’d be a Crossfitter. You know those crazy people who train their bodies to defy human limitations? They endure agony in order to become beautifully strong. Truly grateful people train their hearts to defy worldly values—like popularity and appearance, comfort and materialism. They train their eyes to see God in the midst of suffering. To find grace in brokenness and promise beneath pain. In so doing, they become beautifully strong.
How do we undertake this kind of training? How do we discipline our hearts and minds to choose gratitude? We must look heavenward. You see, gratitude isn’t hiding in bulging bank accounts or romance-novel worthy relationships. Gratitude is the overflow of an eternal perspective. “Look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen,” Paul urges. “For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). In other words, earthly circumstances are fleeting. Beach vacations end. Marriages fail. Doctors deliver difficult news. But the promises of Jesus last forever! They are a firm foundation, and the only soil fertile enough to grow gratitude in the midst of sorrow.
You know that trial in your life—the one that’s always on the back of your mind? Just for a moment, imagine cutting it out of the fabric of your daily life and pasting it into eternity. How can it harm you for eternity? Can it separate you from the unbreakable love of Jesus? Can it follow you into the next trillion years spent in His presence? Is it bigger than the God who spoke galaxies into existence? Is it beyond His ability to redeem?
By no means! As Paul would say, “this light momentary affliction is preparing for [you] an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). As believers we must view our momentary trials in light of eternity. We must view the stuff that will vanish in light of the stuff that will be ours forever. And then, like Peter (and so many of my deeply grateful friends) our hearts will begin to cry:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (I Peter 1:3-4).
Let me tell you, this post was not written by a spiritual (or physical) Crossfitter. It was written by a weary Mom who’s prone to anxiety. A wife who’s quick to complain, and a Christian accustomed to failure. But that’s the beauty of gratitude. We don’t have to “feel it” to choose it. We don’t have to be “good at it” to cultivate it. Gratitude can be grown. It can be grown in sunny seasons, and it can be grown out of the deepest trials of our lives.
Praise God! Gratitude is ours for the taking.
About the Author:
Jeanne Harrison grew up as a missionary kid in the Philippines for the first fifteen years of her life. Today she is a regular blogger for Revive Our Hearts, and the author of Loving My Lot: A Young Mom’s Journey to Contentment and Hiding in the Hallway: Anchoring Yourself as an MK. Jeanne lives in Macon, Georgia, where her husband, Clint, serves as the Executive Pastor at a local church. Together they have four wild and wonderful daughters, ages 1, 3, 6 and 8.