Archives for posts with tag: gratitude

Have you ever owned anything you really couldn’t afford?  Maybe you’ve bought a fixer-upper house (or any house) and found that no matter how much time and money you pour into it, there’s always something else to fix or replace.  Or maybe you’ve bought a classic car, intending to restore it to its former glory, and everything you do just leads to something else that needs to be done.  We invest so much into maintaining and improving our investments, sometimes we wonder if they are worth what they cost.

Perhaps you’ve received a gift you couldn’t afford.  Has a well-meaning friend or relative given your child a puppy or kitten, thinking only about how much the child would enjoy the pet and not about how much time and money you will have to spend feeding and caring for it?  Or maybe someone has given you an expensive family heirloom, and over the years you have had to move it, find a place for it, dust it, insure it.  Sometimes a gift can be a burden.

When we consider the gift of salvation that God has offered us, we surely experience joy and gratitude.  This is truly a gift that we cannot afford; yet, it is a gift that we must accept if we are to embrace life and overcome death.  God’s grace is freely given:  it cannot be earned or bought and, just as importantly, it cannot be returned or lost.  It is the gift we celebrate at Christmas by giving presents to one another.  It is the babe in the manger, the offerings of the magi, the miracle of God becoming human and living among us.  It is the wonder of a young girl who gave her own life, her plans and her future, to God to use as He pleased.  How many of us would make such a sacrifice?

If you have children, you have probably heard them say, “I wish it could be Christmas every day!”  Indeed, we are urged to keep Christmas in our hearts all year.  Doing so might make us happier, more generous, more loving people.  But as followers of Jesus, isn’t it even more important to keep Easter ever in our hearts?  The love of God demonstrated by the incarnate Word is a complex love.  It is generous, kind, compassionate, and joyful.  It is also sacrificial, demanding, and loaded with expectation.  It is the warmth of a stable full of animals making quiet sounds over a newborn baby dozing in the protective arms of his mother.  It is the agony and solitude of the cross and the bitter chill of a tomb.  It is the impossible truth of a risen Lord.

angel-prayers public domain

What does it mean to keep Easter all year long?  To me, Resurrection Sunday is like New Year’s Day.  It is a new beginning for everyone who has accepted this incredible gift of salvation.  It is a day of ecstatic joy preceded by three days of darkness, mourning, and despair.  We would do well not to forget those days of hopelessness because they remind us of the despair Jesus felt on the cross as first his friends and then his Father turned away from him.  Christmas is God’s perfect love poured out on creation; Easter is God’s pure love tempered by sacrifice.  It is love that through the tormenting fire of ridicule, abandonment, cowardice, selfishness, abuse, jealousy, hatred, and murder became . . . grace.

How can we respond to such a gift?  Saying “thank you” is a start, but it’s not enough.  Unless our hearts are changed by this extravagant grace, God’s love is wasted on us.  When we are tempted to be proud of our new status in Christ, we might remember that he, not we, paid the price for it.  When we are provoked to righteous indignation, we might consider the many accounts in scripture of his dealings with provokers and respond the way he did, with quiet confidence.  When we are angry, we might remember how an act of sacrificial love was what it took to satisfy the wrath of God, and we might offer love instead of a clever word or hurtful retort.  When we see those in need, we can reach out beyond our own small circles and offer help.  When we don’t know what else to do, we can love.  And if love costs us something, we can be grateful for the opportunity to make the sacrifice.  It is so little compared to what we have been given.

We must keep Easter in our hearts always, lest we forget that the babe in the manger was also the lamb on the altar.

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Last Friday I wrote about the necessity of becoming like little children if we want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Once we’re all grown up, with adult responsibilities and commitments, how can we ever return to the simpler times of childhood?  And simplicity is a key ingredient in childlikeness, isn’t it?  Henry David Thoreau said, “Our lives are frittered away by detail. . . . Simplify, simplify, simplify!”  Thomas à Kempis said, “Purity and simplicity are the two wings with which man soars above the earth and all temporary nature.”  And Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote, “It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.”  (All quotations taken from http://www.heartquotes.net/Simplicity.html.)

Temporary nature.  The real things of life.  Hmm.  In 2 Corinthians 4:18 we read, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  If we focus on the eternal instead of the temporary, we can avoid getting caught up in the latest fads, in gadgets, in material things of all kinds and instead live in God’s Kingdom, which is eternal.  If our priorities are God’s priorities, if we align ourselves with what Jesus taught was important, we can start to catch a glimpse of the Kingdom.  What a dramatic change we must make in how we view the world if we want to see it through the eyes of a child!  People we have overlooked suddenly grab our attention, and our hearts feel a peculiar longing.  What next?  We are on the road to discipleship, so we walk, step by step.

As we approach the trinity holiday season of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, we have a great opportunity to examine and explore our faith journey, our road to discipleship.  I’d like to propose a three-step process that acknowledges the autumn and winter holidays and can help us along our walk.

First, Thanksgiving:  we need to realize how blessed we are and express our gratitude.  We can and surely do this silently in prayer already, but I suggest another way.  Choose something for which you are especially grateful, such as plenty of good food to eat, and express gratitude to God by feeding the hungry, by volunteering at or donating to your local food pantry or other organization that focuses on food.  If you’re grateful for a warm, dry home, volunteer at or give to Habitat for Humanity or a similar charity.  One of my favorites is World Vision, which offers many ways for me to express my gratitude for food, shelter, education, and clean water by providing these things to people in need all over the world.

Second, Christmas:  this holiday is all about gifts.  Yes, retailers love it because we spend lots of money on stuff, but it’s really about The Gift, the child in the manger, the savior of the world.  So focus on gifts you have received from God in the form of talents and abilities and gifts of the Holy Spirit, and serve in those areas of giftedness at your church and in your home and community.  Help your children discover their gifts, too, and find ways for them to serve.  You might be surprised at how meaningful they find this, especially as they realize that God has placed talents and abilities in them that they can call on to actually help build the Kingdom of Heaven in their own communities.

Third, New Year’s:  for me, this holiday is about fresh beginnings, and I always tend to be introspective about the year past and the one just beginning.  What did I do that was worthwhile?  How can I be better?  Am I sufficiently thankful, and am I serving in my areas of giftedness?  January 1 is the end of the holiday celebrations and the beginning of a long stretch of cold, dark days with the warmth and new life of spring only a pleasant memory and a wishful thought.  It’s the perfect time to examine deeply who we are, who God made us to be and how we have allowed ourselves to be shaped both by Him and by worldly influences.  Can we open our hearts more widely to let God in to remake us in His image?  Will we let Him break us, as a potter breaks the imperfect piece, returns it to clay, and remolds it?  Will we trust Him to act in our best interests (this is an especially difficult one for me because I have trust issues) and accept His intrusion into our plans?  Will we be alert to His voice?  Will we be willing to change and grow?  Will we be like little children and let Jesus lead us?

Unless we become like children, Jesus says, we cannot enter the Kingdom.  I know I want to be there, even if it means letting the God of the universe into my clenched little heart.  What about you?

How can you tell when you are lacking proper gratitude?  It’s usually very easy to spot in others.  For example, a little girl once visiting an adoring aunt was given a bright shiny new dime.  She held it tightly in her little fist but remained silent.  Her mother prodded her to respond appropriately, “What must you say to your Aunt Jane?”  The little child thought for a brief second and blurted, “It’s not enough!” (adapted from Stories for Speakers and Writers, Baker).

Obviously, there was something missing in the little girl’s level of gratitude—although she definitely had an attitude!

We should see right away that we sometimes have stood in just such a similar place, clutching a blessing from the Lord and yet complaining that it was not enough.

If there is one thing I feel guilty of doing that may have hampered a correct development of a true attitude of gratitude in my children, it is that I gave them too much.

Doing without sometimes can be the best educational experience.  I’m not just talking about material things, either.  It is educational for a child to go without a parent’s prodding to get out of bed on their own, even if it means they will be late to class.  The purchase of an alarm clock for their room is a great gift.  It’s also educational for a child to go without a parent’s money when the child’s “I want this” spending has left them without funds for something very special that may appear in the last part of the month.

It is also often beneficial if a parent does not directly intercede in a problem the child may be encountering at school or with friends.  This is, of course, not a problem which could cause physical harm to the child at an age when the child cannot cope with such a thing.

Holding back in certain situations is a monumental task for most parents.  Good parents love their children and hate to see them unhappy, or feeling shame or despondency.  A child’s character, however, can be slowed in its development if he learns to rely on his parents to bail him out.  We want to instill a sense of responsibility when we require a child to be accountable for the consequences of his actions.

If we give our children the opportunity to discover the good things that come from being responsible, we will develop in them the attitudes they should have in their work, relationships, and other aspects of life.

As Thanksgiving season comes quickly upon us, we would do well to emulate the spirit of the Pilgrims.  The story is told that before the Pilgrim’s Thanksgiving meal, just five kernels of corn were placed on each plate.  This helped to remind everyone that the destitution of Plymouth Colony had once been of great magnitude.  Whether this story is true or not, it reflects the attitude of the Pilgrims and should be a guide to us as well.

How thankful are you for where you and your family are today?  How do you pass that on to your children…and even to friends you happen to share the holiday meal with?  Maybe this year would be a great year for a new Thanksgiving tradition at the dinner table.  What about passing out a bowl of corn with only enough in it to give a few kernels to each person at the table…first course of “Thankfulness” served to all?   What conversation could begin at the table this year?   Think about it.

by Cindy Best

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