“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thes 5:18)
THE ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
The following is an experience described by an unknown author: “I dreamt that I went to heaven and an angel was showing me around. We walked side-by-side inside a large workroom filled with angels. My angel guide stopped in front of the first section and said, “This is the Receiving Section. Here, all petitions to God said in prayer are received.” I looked around in that area, and it was terribly busy with so many angels sorting out petitions written on voluminous paper sheets and scraps from people all over the world. Then we moved on down a long corridor until we reached the second section. The angel then said to me, “This is the Packaging and Delivery Section. Here, the graces and blessings the people asked for are processed and delivered to the living persons who asked for them.” I noticed again how busy it was there. There were many angels working hard at that station, since so many blessings had been requested and were being packaged for delivery to earth. Finally at the farthest end of the long corridor we stopped at the door of a very small station. To my great surprise, only one angel was seated there, idly doing nothing. “This is the Acknowledgement Section,” my angel friend quietly admitted to me. He seemed embarrassed. “How is it that there’s no work going on here?” I asked. “So sad,” the angel sighed, “after people receive the blessings that they asked for, very few send back acknowledgments.”
In Luke 17:11-19, out of the ten lepers, only one returned to thank Jesus: “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” I have been responsible for intercession for many years, initially as Coordinator of the Delhi Crusaders – an intercession ministry in Delhi, then as Coordinator of the National Intercession Network and now as the Chair of the International Intercession Committee under ICCRS. We keep receiving several prayer requests and I know of definite cases where the prayers have been answered. But very few really get back to acknowledge the favors received so that the intercessors could thank the Lord for answering the prayers. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude begins with thanking God not only for all the blessings we keep receiving from God day after day, but also for all that happens in our day to day life because we trust that God has a plan for us and that His plan for us is good.
That is why St. Paul went beyond the routine understanding of thankfulness and exhorted us: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thes 5:18). Thankfulness is fine when things go well. But is it the will of God to thank Him when things go wrong – the life partner is not caring, the children are rebellious, the company you work has announced layoffs, the debts are piling up, the health is failing, etc.? What is it that we are supposed to be thankful for? If we look closely, Paul did not ask us to be thankful for these things; rather to be thankful in these circumstances. There is a major difference between being thankful for every situation in life and being thankful in those situations. The circumstances may never change, but our attitude towards them could change and that would make all the difference. When I find myself going through the fires of a painful and difficult trial, I don’t give thanks for the trial itself. Rather, I give thanks to God for that which He is teaching me, changing in me, and developing in me through the trial.
“The circumstances may never change, but our attitude towards them could change and that would make all the difference”
No matter what the circumstances are, we are expected to be thankful. Gratitude begins by saying ‘Thank you’. Lost the football game? Say thank you. Have the worst teacher in the history of teaching? Say thank you. Are on outing and it has been raining cats and dogs? Say thank you. Got pancake on your plate and you hate pancake? Say thank you anyway. After Matthew Henry, the famous commentator, had been accosted by thieves and relieved of his money, he wrote in his diary: “Let me be thankful, first, because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my money, they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not all that much; and, fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.” Regardless of the negative things that happen, there is still so much for which we can be thankful. “Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will exult in the God of my salvation.” (Hab 3:17-18). The uglier the wrapping paper, the better the gift could be.
Why not take a few minutes, grab a notebook and pen, and make your own list of things for which you could be thankful to God. When it comes to this, I meet two types of people: There are those who are grumblers and complainers and those who are thankful and grateful. It is interesting to note that almost universally the person who is a complainer is much less happy than the thankful person. Those who have conducted detailed study on the subject have acknowledged that thankfulness is a key which unlocks the depressive emotions. One cannot be both thankful and depressed at the same time. These are opposite emotions. One can be sad, hurt, or angered and still be thankful; but one can’t be depressed and still be thankful.
Diana, a young believer, was in a deep depression. She was crying all day and found no reason to live at all. Her parents put her in a mental institution where she had to share the room with other 20 people who had either the same problem, or were drug addicts. Imagine a young Christian in that hospital, with doctors who had no other treatment than sedatives! There was a nurse, who by seeing the condition of this girl spent time with her. She sat with her. She started a “thankfulness therapy” with Diana. Giving reasons, lots of reasons to just thank God for every little thing, even for being in a mental hospital, was a step towards this girl’s healing. Why do people end up with depression! It is not because they have not received anything good! It is because they think that they are miserable. What is needed is an attitudinal change. Once Diana started to thank God and to be grateful for just about everything, good and bad, a miracle took place inside her, one that astonished the doctors. The healing began! Diana was released from the hospital after two weeks completely healed.
In the recent years psychologists have done serious research on ‘the spirit of thanksgiving’ and have arrived at the conclusion that it contributes to mental health and ultimately leads us to God. Dr Paul Vitz, a Catholic psychologist in the United States, told in an interview, “If you can begin to be thankful for things that are present in your life, once you realize that you’ve been given things, and given them gratis, things change… It is gratitude for sending Jesus so that our sins are atoned for. It is the gratitude for all the gifts that God has given us, the people we know, the beauty of the world around us. Gratitude and love are very closely related. Thus, since we are at the deepest level called to love God and love others, gratitude facilitates that. Gratitude moves you towards love, and since God is love, gratitude at the very deepest level moves us towards God.” Let us cultivate the spirit of gratitude! Let us acknowledge every blessing that comes from God! Fr William J. Bryon, S.J said: “I think it is impossible for anyone to be simultaneously grateful and unhappy. So the solution to much of the unhappiness that humans experience is a reawakening in the human heart of the idea of gratitude. That’s why I think it is a great idea for non-believers to celebrate thanksgiving. Let anyone start expressing and experiencing gratitude–if not vertically towards God, at least horizontally towards others in the human community–and you’ll find that person holding a new lease on happiness.”
Rendering thanks to God is not to be an occasional act of God’s people, but it is to be a way of life. It is said that it takes three weeks to form a habit, and another three weeks to solidify that habit. Someone observed: “In my struggle to develop the habit of thankfulness, I tried an experiment I called ‘Thank Therapy’. Thank Therapy is simply focusing on the many things in my life for which I can be thankful. The first time I tried it, I took out a notebook and wrote at the top, ‘Twenty Reasons Why I’m Thankful’. The first few were easy; but in my depressed emotional state I really struggled to write down twenty reasons why I was thankful.” If you want to be sour and gloomy, go for it. There is plenty to keep you in such a state for the rest of your life. But, on the other hand, if you want to be happy and cheerful, do it. God has given each of us ample reasons to rejoice. A lady once prayed: “Dear Jesus, please teach me to appreciate what I have before time forces me to appreciate what I had.” Let us learn to give thanks in all circumstances saying ‘Thank you, Lord’!