Reality Check

Cultivating a year-round attitude of gratitude

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” Philippians 4:6, NASB.

I’m thankful for ______________________ (you fill in the blank).

The list of things we can be grateful for is endless. You can never run out of things for which to be thankful, regardless of the time of year. Saying “thanks” causes you to cross over from the ranks of the have-nots to the ranks of those who know they have-much.

Cicero, the Roman philosopher, said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” When a person is grateful—when he or she has an attitude of gratitude—they become an all-around better person and all the other good virtues flourish.

Scripture abounds with encouragement and commands to be thankful. In fact, the command to be grateful, either direct or implied, occurs over 100 times.

According to Philippians 4:6, we can reduce our anxiety today by thankfully remembering how God has helped us in the past. In the past 20 years the field of psychology has discovered that we can have better attitudes if we think about positive things. Well, God certainly knew this a long time ago. If we can have an attitude of gratitude, our whole perspective will change.

But, if gratitude creates such a positive change in our attitude, then it should be self-reinforcing and a much more common experience for each of us. So, why aren’t we more grateful, more of the time? There are certainly many reasons, but I would like to suggest a unique idea for you to consider: We simply do not realize all that we have been given.

What is it that keeps a child from feeling grateful for the love and protection of their parents? Could it be that children have no awareness of the price their parents paid to the obstetricians, the pediatricians, the hospital, or anything associated with their birth? The child grows up oblivious to the daily sacrifices made by their parents. Maybe the same is true for each one of us with regard to our Heavenly Father. We do not realize how much He provides and protects.

If we had just an inkling of an idea of how little we know about ourselves, our world, our lives (both physical and spiritual), then maybe we would be more grateful. The Bible says in I Corinthians 13 that we now see in a mirror dimly, but someday we will see things clearly.

So, how dimly do we see? Answer: Very dimly.

For example, did you know that 80 percent of the information we receive from our five senses comes through the avenue of the eyes? But if all the energy of the electromagnetic spectrum were comparable to a piano keyboard, your visual abilities would be equal to less than one note. In other words, far more goes on around us than the scope of our five senses.

So, we don’t see things as clearly or completely as we think we do. And, as Christians, we also believe in a spiritual world that lies beyond our understanding. The gratitude we should have is derived from the realization that our thoughts are so far below God’s thoughts. We truly are like small children who don’t realize how dependent they are on their parents’ love and protection.

In Isaiah 55:8 the Lord declares, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” In I Corinthians 1:5, the Apostle Paul writes, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

In other words, we are all sophomores in this thing we call life. What is a sophomore? The word itself means “wise fool.” It is someone who has a little experience or learning, and they often think they know it all. But, the truth is, they don’t know what they don’t know. There’s an interesting paradox here—the more you know, the more you realize how little you really do know. It makes you humble and it makes you grateful.

As we enter the season of remembering the birth of Jesus Christ, let us be grateful for the tremendous sacrifice he made on our behalf by coming to this world. We may only know in part all of the gifts that God has promised to us as a result of Christ’s birth, life and sacrifice, but we certainly can be grateful.

columnist-danjenkins

 

— by Daniel Jenkins, Ph.D.

Jenkins is a licensed clinical psychologist at Lighthouse Psychological Services in Mission Valley. He is also a professor at Point Loma Nazarene University. Learn more at www.lighthousespy.com

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