The Discipline of Gratitude

This year, “Thankful trees” seem to be sprouting up everywhere.  I personally hold Ann Voskamp responsible for the increase in this trend.  Recently, I made my way up to the kitchen and there, on the dining room table, sat a terra cotta pot with fake straw and a handful of twigs sticking up in the air.

My first reaction was, “Oh no.”

I’ve never been one for tacky traditions, but I’m starting to realize that part of that might be emotional.  Traditions involve comfort and trust, and when you have a hard time trusting, you are slow to settle into traditions.  Life changes and it’s better to never have a tradition than have one broken.

So, at first, I hated that tree and the little bowl of paper leaves that rested beside it.  I was invited to put a leaf on the tree.  Believe it or not, I was actually, in some way, offended by this suggestion.  Childish, I thought.  Then, I made an absolutely ridiculous excuse:

I don’t have anything to be thankful for.

After spending some time wallowing in my first-world selfish self-pity, I snapped myself out of it.  I knew better than that.  I knew I had much to be thankful for.  Still, I struggled to figure out what that was.  Later in the afternoon, I approached the thankfulness tree, grabbed a leaf and pen and wrote,

“My family.”

It seemed stupid and cliche.  Of course I am grateful for my family.  I should be able to come up with something more impressive than that.

That night, my cousin died.

He passed away unexpectedly at the age of 30, leaving his parents childless, and the family broken-hearted.  His family.  My family.

The next morning, I went upstairs and sat in front of that tree, and found a new leaf, penned that morning:


And you know what I realized?  Thankfulness is a choice.

We are not naturally grateful.  We are inherently selfish.  You may be a ‘glass half full’ person but there is a part of you deep down in your soul that wants another glass.

At one point or another, you were that two-year-old pitching a fit because you didn’t get the toy you wanted.  You were that teenager staring at a closet full of clothes complaining about having nothing to wear.  You were standing at your best friend’s wedding angry that God hadn’t given you your turn yet.

We’re selfish.  We’re ungrateful.  We overlook the smallest, most simple blessings as insignificant and commonplace.  We take them for granted as if God owes them to us.  Blessings like life, health, family, and provision are overlooked as we complain about all that we do not have.

It is the plague of Eden, the desire for the one thing we cannot have and the selfish overlooking of all of the gifts and goodness we have already been given.

When we overlook the goodness of God so vividly on display in our lives, we forget.  We forget that He is good.  We forget that He is involved in our lives.  We forget that He cares. In a world of an uncaring, distant, forgotten God, sin flourishes.  In that world, it makes perfect sense for us to turn to other, more tangible gods, for comfort.

But that is not the world we live in.

What we need is a change of perspective.  What we need is to stop staring at the one thing we don’t have, and to stop convincing ourselves that God is holding out on us.  We need to stop taking the blessings of our lives for granted and learn to purposefully seek out His goodness.  

Gratitude, like love, is not an emotion.  It is a discipline.  It is not the warm fuzzies I get when someone hands me a birthday gift.  It is a choice on my part to be grateful for what I have been given, regardless of how insignificant or everyday it may seem.

I want to encourage you all this holiday season, to practice the discipline of gratitude.  Every day, find something to be thankful for, specifically something that you take for granted.  Sure, vacation days or the holiday bonus at work are things to be thankful for, but what about your every day?  What about the every day gifts that surround you, the ones that bore you.

Your family

Your best friends

Your husband’s smile

Your mother’s cooking

We only get one chance at this life, and we can live it unhappy, and bored with the greatness of God, or we can live it abundantly, seeking out His goodness and enjoying every blessing He gives us.  Would you join me in practicing the discipline of gratitude this holiday season?