It depends on how you look at it
Today I am thinking about perspective. Perhaps it is because of all the tragedy around me, around the world. Perhaps it is because I have stuff, relationships and a job. Perhaps it is because I am so tired of the consumer mentality in my own life. And perhaps it is because as I get older I have a very different outlook than I had before.
This week many Americans will gather around a table with an abundance of food, family and material stuff. They will be thankful that they are not homeless, or that they are not starving. They may even be thankful for enough money and time off to consume more material things on Black Friday. They will be grateful to live in a free country and that they are not marginalized refugees at the border. They will be grateful for the homes that did not burn down, the people and animals that escaped the inferno and the terrorists that were thwarted. And they should!
While Christians do not have the corner on the market of thankfulness, and many even focus on what they lack, there is something that makes thanksgiving for the believer different than anyone else on the planet. The distinction is in the fact that Christians (and others who believe in God) have Someone to thank! The essence of thanksgiving for me is gratitude to a God who loves and cares for individuals.
There is so much to be thankful for, but it often doesn’t feel like it with so much sorrow and grief going on around us. How do you tell someone to go in peace without being the hands and feet of Jesus and caring for their needs? How can someone really believe that God is for them when their house burns down or their friends are murdered in a public place? I think it is the circumstances of our lives that make it so difficult to maintain an attitude of gratitude.
Like all of us, I have many blessings and I have heartache too. One thing I have realized in the last few years is that I am capable of changing my perspective. Instead of thinking about what I don’t have, I am learning to count my blessings. I am waking up and consciously asking God, “What do you have for me today?” Rather than saying “there but for the grace of God go I” (which is a terrible thing to say anyway), I am saying, “because of God’s grace I go”. Additionally, I repeat the corollaries, sometimes aloud like a mantra: “I get to drive home because I have a home to go to and a car to get me there”. “I get to pay bills because I have heat, light, a roof, food, clothes, etc.” “I get to go to work.” Do you hear the subtle difference? “I get to…” instead of “I have to…” Burdens or opportunities. The reality is that there is more than one way to look at things and I can control my mindset, even if I cannot control my circumstances. There is always something to be thankful for. NO.MATTER.WHAT.
It is too easy to slip back into an ungrateful perspective. Once ingratitude takes root, it gains momentum every time I compare, every time I turn my focus from contentment to what I don’t have, what I cannot do, how I look or what others think. Thankfulness is the only hope for happiness. Joy is found in a grateful heart. And the ultimate, meaning behind every expression of gratitude is found in a relationship with a Person who has a plan and gives meaning to life. When I am thankful to God and see everything as an instance of God’s goodness, it changes my perspective. It creates a sense of eternal purpose. It increases my faith. It builds contentment. While the events of the day are often overwhelming and a troubling moment can alter everything, remembering that God’s lovingkindness is new every morning and that He never ceases to work toward His purposes are blessings that build assurance, hope and faith. Knowing that God will never leave or forsake me, that He will fulfill His purpose in me, and that He loves me unconditionally is the perspective I long for.
Perspective doesn’t make things easier, but, for me, it makes things bearable. Gratitude does not come naturally in a crisis. It is easier to feel grateful for the good things. No one feels grateful when they lose a job, a life partner, a house, health. But feeling grateful and being grateful are two different things. While we cannot will ourselves to feel thankful, we can choose how to look at the world. Being grateful is a choice, an overarching attitude that endures and is immune to the gains and losses in our lives. Gratitude provides a perspective that helps us see life in its entirety and not be undone by temporary situations.