By Laura Jones
Have you noticed gratitude merchandise is everywhere these days?
Several weeks ago, I ran to Target for some dish soap and was completely distracted by the dollar aisle. I couldn’t believe the Thanksgiving and Christmas treats were already out when it was not even Halloween yet! While browsing, I noticed that almost all of the Thanksgiving décor had “Thankful”, “Grateful”, or “Blessed” stenciled on it. Napkins, door signs, and paper plates: gratitude was everywhere. I was a little surprised to see how commercialized gratitude has become.
All this made me think: What do we mean when we talk about gratitude? Is there something uniquely Christian about the idea?
There are a number of views on what gratitude is—an emotion, a trait, a virtue, and so forth. One is that gratitude is the appropriate response to a person for the receipt of benefits bestowed by that person. For example, parents give selflessly to their children out of love. The appropriate response of the child is generally gratitude (even if only expressed much later in the life of the child). For what God has done for us and is doing with and for the world, the appropriate response is gratitude. This seems to be the heart of the Christian understanding of gratitude.
When looking for biblical texts that reference gratitude, there isn’t just one particular verse which gives us a tidy definition. I’ve selected a few related texts from the ESV that resonate with me.
Blessed be the Lord!
For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
It appears that gratitude, biblically considered, is our response to the deep, abiding knowledge that we deserve absolutely nothing and, yet, have been given everything in Christ. It is rooted in the story of redemption. God the Father has graciously given us his Beloved Son, and through the workings of the Holy Spirit we are made more in His Image every day that we have life on this earth. It is motivated by the reality that every breath we take is a gift from God- every single breath.
If I am honest with myself, my expressions of gratitude are often too flimsy. Is my practice of gratitude just another way of verbalizing thanks for the material things that make me feel comfortable in this life? I also worry that I do not communicate clearly enough to my children what the source of our gratitude ought to be as Christians.
I want them to see the dollar aisle things at Target and understand that gratitude for the believer is more than a feeling. I suspect that the merchandise at Target is referring to more of a warm sentiment than a whole-hearted response to the reality of our salvation. Our gratitude must be tethered to something deeper than mere sentiment.
I am not suggesting that we should not be grateful for our comfortable vacations, comfortable homes, and comfortable jobs. In fact, I think our understanding of gratitude compels us to give thanks for all of these things. These good gifts are from His hands. But so are the trials. We have to cultivate within our homes a posture of gratitude that sees all of life as His story of redemption for His glory and our good.
Laura Jones is a displaced southerner currently living in West Point, New York with her husband, Harry, and their five children—Haddon (13), Harrison and Gresham (8), Mary Goodwin (5), and baby Kate (8 months). Her days are busy with homeschooling, reading, cooking, and yoga. As a graduate of the Marriage and Family Therapy program at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, she looks forward to returning to counseling when the kids are a little older. You can follow their Army journey here.