Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
I like the story of a Jewish man who goes to his Rabbi and complains, Life is unbearable. There are nine of us living in one room. What can I do? The rabbi answers, Take your goat into the room with you.
The man is dumbfounded and amazed, but the Rabbi insists, Do as I say and come back in a week. A week later the man comes back looking more distraught than before. We can’t stand it, he tells the Rabbi. The goat is noisy and filthy. The Rabbi then tells him, Go home and let the goat out. And come back in a week. A happy man returns to the Rabbi a week later, saying, Life is beautiful. We enjoy every minute of it now that there’s no goat only the nine of us.
I think it’s a good lesson on this matter of gratitude, being grateful for what we’ve got even when we don’t always appreciate the facts. We’re all guilty of being ungrateful, and taking others for granted. If you ate breakfast this morning you are better off than the 800 million people worldwide who will go hungry! That puts it all into perspective I think pretty well.
Life becomes rich through gratitude
Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer used to say that it is only through gratitude that life becomes rich. And that is true. The Oxford Dictionary defines gratitude as ‘readiness to show appreciation for kindness and to return it’.
Gratitude doesn’t mean that we see the world through rose coloured glasses, but rather that we choose to see the good things God has blessed us with. I have the impression that we have a very strange idea of what constitutes gratitude. Gratitude is not the same as being happy. Gratitude is taking an honest look at a situation and choosing to say even in this there is a reason to hope.
Gratitude is the willingness to look for a reason to hope. There are going to be days when you can’t see anything to be grateful for. Life is not a Disney movie. But if you practise gratitude, you may find that even on the really hard days you can find something to hope for.
Gratefulness can be hard work
There is a lot to be grateful for. But even armed with this knowledge some days being grateful is hard work. There are days when you can look out of your window and practically trip over all of the things there are to be grateful for. And there are other days when you have to look really, really hard to find it. Gratitude is a lot like exercising—we know we should do it, we know we need to do it and that our lives will be better if we do, but we have a hard time fitting it into our day.
How can you find time to be grateful? What would that look like?
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “We must be the change we want to see in the world.” Can we make it so that there is more to be thankful for? Yes, but it has to start with you and me.
If you are looking for a way to put gratitude into practice, there’s lots of things you can do:
- Love your family—does anyone need your forgiveness?
- Invest time and energy in the people you love.
- Expand your borders—invite a neighbour for tea or coffee.
- Visit an elderly person and listen to their stories of the past.
- Write an encouraging note to someone feeling disheartened.
- Go grocery shopping for a family in need.
- Donate to a good cause.
- Know you have a unique purpose in the world and believe you can and will make a difference.
If you are looking around your world and don’t see a lot to be grateful for, there is hope. You can have the peace that you are looking for; there is a way to balance your life. No-one can be perfect, or have a perfect life.
Living with a spirit of gratitude
Where can we find hope for peace? I’ve found that the hope for peace comes from an individual who lived a perfect life on earth. That person was Jesus Christ. Hope for peace in the world, and hope for peace in your life—including making peace with yourself—is possible by finding peace with God.
A Methodist University in California did a study on gratitude, with some very convincing results. A few hundred people were assigned to three different groups. The first group had to keep a diary and write down all the significant events that happened each day. The second group recorded only the unpleasant things that happened, and the third group made a daily list of things for which they were grateful.
The results were very interesting as you’d expect. The people who tried to live each day in a spirit of gratitude were more alert, enthusiastic, determined, optimistic and had more energy. They experienced less depression and stress, wanted to help others, exercised more often, and made progress of their personal goals. It showed that the more people feel grateful, the more they feel loved and appreciated by others.
Are you grateful for what life has given you? Have you ever stopped to say to God, Lord, I thank you for what I’ve experienced today from your hand.
Christian author Thomas Kelly once wrote these words:
We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things?
On 1 May 1998, 23-year-old Shannon Broom was tragically killed in a car accident. Her parents Jan and Jules were devastated. She was their only child. As they cleaned her room they came across her journal that she wrote in every day. She called it her ‘gratitude journal’. She wrote of her love and appreciation for her parents, friends, and school.
In spite of their terrible loss, Jan and Jules realised their daughter had lived a life of gratitude and joy. Over time, their despair was replaced by tremendous gratitude that Shannon was in their life. That’s the kind of comfort that really matters in a deep time of need.
(To be continued in Gratitude – Part 2)