Have you noticed how those two small words make a difference in the way we feel about ourselves? Or how a small sign of gratitude can bring a smile to your face? How about a little thank you note just because of how cool you are?
I know in my own life, it is those small thank you’s that bring a smile to my heart but I have a hard time showing it on my face. I struggle in receiving gratitude. I just have a hard time when someone pays close attention to me and tells me how thankful they are for something I did or said. I get all nervous and twitchy on the inside when it happens. I wouldn’t mention this little quirk in my personality if it wasn’t for the fact that I see it happen so often in other people I know. It’s that same kind of feeling, many of us just get uncomfortable receiving gratitude, especially that personal, look you in the eye, “thank you, I am so glad for you,” kind of gratitude.
I’ve wondered why this was, why we have a hard time with this? Here’s one thought. As a Christian and church worker, I remember being taught that what we do for Christ we don’t do for gratitude, we don’t do it to please other people, we should have a “not for man but for God,” kind of attitude. This attitude for the Christian is right, the work we do, the way we love, the care and hospitality we show, the kindness we offer, we don’t do this for gratitude or to please other people. We simply can’t because the people that we serve, like ourselves, are a mixed bag of emotions, often who seem to be incapable of showing a measure of gratitude so lost we are in our own sin and selfishness. If we relied upon other’s gratitude to determine how and why we did good works, we never would. As Christians the reason we show love and compassion is because of the One who loved us first, before we were even capable of showing gratitude, indeed while we were still fighting against God in our own lives. Because it didn’t matter to God it doesn’t matter to us.
But I have a feeling that this has left many Christians with a place of uncertainty when it comes to receiving gratitude, especially for the good things we do in our Christian walk. We have this sense in our heads that to receive that gratitude feels a little too much like pride or doing it for the wrong reasons, so we avoid, shift the focus or say something about “Praise the Lord” or “Thank God for what he has done.” I think we can also get nervous that other people might think that what we do we are doing for praise and not for the Lord alone, so we prefer to keep it under wraps and work behind the scenes.
Here’s my second thought, apart from the worry about pride or doing it for the wrong reasons, I wonder if there is a bit of insecurity and devalued self-worth involved in our hearts. I know that happens with me, I wonder if it happens to other people? Sometimes when we are not feeling good about ourselves we don’t think we deserve gratitude or thankfulness. We can take on a mood that doesn’t see the good that we are a part of or the good that we accomplish for the sake of Christ as being something important and worth of proper Christian honor. Feeling somehow that it is easier to punt the responsibility off than stay in the light of someone’s grateful attention. How we feel about ourselves can deeply affect how we receive gratitude.
I write all of this because it’s Thanksgiving Season and it always seems like we have to have the obligatory “thankfulness” article. But I wondered as I pondered this article that for us to create a “culture of thankfulness” in our own churches and in our lives, or as many have said an “attitude of gratitude” maybe it starts, not with another thing to add to my to do list but more of a change of heart in ourselves that not only gives but receives gratefulness graciously.
To do this, maybe we can address the two issues that sometimes make it hard for Christians, including myself, to receive gratitude: The heart and the head. Let’s start with the heart, about how we feel about ourselves. It’s no secret that this world loves to beat on us. We see impossible images that we are suppose to live up to all the while we are told we are not thin, tall, strong, curvy, smart, hip, or rich enough to ever match up. We are told and shown often how little we are worth to the world, whether it be from rudeness and inattention or the unfortunately common extremes of physical and emotional abuse. Hurting people hurt people and the cycle goes on. The heart is the place where God’s Word in Jesus breaks the cycle and if allowed can heal our hearts and remind us of our worth. Remember that God created you GOOD, that is as His beloved child, not too be judged by outward standards of beauty, physical conditions, or even illness but good in the eyes of God, his loved forever child. Jesus reminds the crowds of humanity in Luke 12:6-7 “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
In God’s eyes; the value that ultimately only matters, we are worth the world, so much that Jesus would sacrifice His own life for us. We have intrinsic value and worth because of the love of God and you know what, that means we are actually worth something. In Jesus we don’t have to be afraid we’re not worth enough to receive thanks because our great worth is found in the love of God.
In that love you were made in the image of God, which means you were made to reflect his goodness to your world. Our heads can get all twisted around trying to decide is it God or me, am I being prideful or not, but I’m pretty sure we don’t have to make it complicated, the Bible doesn’t. Isaiah 64:8 tells us, “O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand.” How could a pot take the praise away from the potter, even a beautiful and remarkable pot is still a lump of clay fashioned by the Potter’s hand. Taking praise away from the Lord is quite beyond our capability. But we can take pride from and receive thanks for being a good pot made by the Lord for the unique purpose we have been given of being vessels of grace to our world. There is no fear in recognizing and being recognized when we are fulfilling well the work we were made to do. The praise always belongs to the creator but we can receive the thanks of being part of the good work we were meant to be.
When we allow ourselves to receive gratitude, both by our heart in recognizing our worth in the Lord and in our mind when we recognize we are being “good pots,” we are receiving a gift from God. That good and Godly gratitude is a gift from God that directs us in the right direction to go, affirms we’re doing what we are suppose to be doing and points us heavenward to our good Creator God who made it all possible. Taking joy in this can help us to be more open and willing to share that joy with the people in our lives who in both small and large ways are being “good pots” as well. We have this beautiful opportunity to share our gratitude for someone that is being a good pot and in doing that affirm them in the good work God has fashioned them to do.
Don’t be afraid of being a good pot for the sake of Christ and make sure you take the opportunity to tell someone else when they are being a good pot too!