Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Giving Thanks for What I Don't Have

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I Thessalonians 5:18

“Keep an attitude of gratitude.” I’ve heard that phrase over and over again through the years. For me, it’s what I tell myself when I’m going through a hard time. It reminds me to find the little things to be thankful for, especially when the big things in my life are looming over me like a scary monster about to chew me up and spit me out.

An attitude of gratitude has gotten me through a lot in life. In every situation, from my divorce to my father’s death, I have tried to find the silver lining in the dark clouds. “Well, at least it’s amicable,” I mused about the breakup of my marriage; and “He’s no longer suffering” is what I said when my father passed after a two-year battle with cancer. This “silver lining” approach has become so ingrained in me that my closest friends know that every trial I tell them about will be followed up with the statement “but it could be worse…”

Yes, it could be worse, couldn’t it? It’s easy to sit on our pity pot when times are tough; and yet, when you step outside yourself, you find that even with your troubles, there is often someone else hurting a whole lot more. In the “old days” when I was growing up, parents would remind us of this, even if it were to just tell us to eat all the food on our plates. “Think about the starving children in Africa,” they would say. Suddenly we appreciated that we had food at all, even if it wasn’t our favorite dish.

I am reminded of this today because I find myself surrounded by friends and family members for whom it really is worse. While I sit here typing this blog, I am looking out the window at a beautiful sunny day, thinking fondly about the walk I took in the park with a friend this morning and the laughter we shared over coffee. Sure, I have multiple chronic illnesses and a torn rotator cuff that isn’t quite healed. It can be difficult to sleep and sometimes hurts to get dressed in the morning. I don’t like that.

But then I think about a friend whose child is struggling with depression, to the point of suicidal thoughts. Another friend is sitting at the hospital waiting for the doctor to give him a prognosis on his son suffering from traumatic brain injury due to an accident. One family member’s RA treatment isn’t working and she is facing knee replacement, while another family member is preparing for cancer surgery and chemo.

Having a thankful heart, however, is not the same as giving thanks. Giving thanks is an active verb, not a passive condition. God wants our gratitude, but he also wants action behind it.

It would be easy for me to just send up a prayer of gratitude to God for allowing me my sunny, relatively pain-free day as compared to other I know. And don’t get me wrong, I am thanking Him for all my many blessings, as well as the struggles I don’t have! But is that really enough? In my mind, and according to the Bible, the answer is no.

Jesus himself commands us to live by the Golden Rule: do unto others what you would have others do unto you. What would I want others to do if I were going through one of the scenarios I described above? While my child were laying in a hospital bed, or perhaps while I was facing a life-threatening diagnosis myself, would I want to know my friends and family were breathing a big sigh of relief, thanking God they weren’t in my shoes? Would I want to hear how they might have troubles, but how “it could be worse” – they could be me? Probably not.

When we are going through the toughest times in our lives, the number one thing we usually need is hope. We need to know we are going to make it through, that there will be better days ahead. We need to hear that everything will be alright in the end, and so if it’s not alright, then it’s not the end yet. And often times, we need to feel that hope coming from multiple directions, expressed in multiple ways.

I Peter 3:15 says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” That is a command for us to share the testimony of our hope in Christ, for salvation, but I also believe it is a command for us to be agents of hope in a hurting world.

When we see someone in need – whether friend or family member or even a perfect stranger – it is our role as ambassadors for Christ to share God’s love with them and to let them know that there is hope.

As we minister to the needs of others, the sense of gratitude for our own circumstances grows and we learn the meaning of real joy.

And as we share in each other’s burdens, they become lighter. Suddenly, those friends don’t feel the weight of the world on their shoulders, for they have someone to help carry the load. And as we share our testimony of how God carried us through our own struggles, we give real hope to what otherwise might seem like a hopeless situation.

So how do I put an attitude of gratitude into action? I make that call. Mail that card. Send some flowers. Lend an ear. Show up with a hug. And of course, pray. Pray for them, and pray with them. Quite simply, I remember what it is to walk through the fiery trials of life, and I walk with them. And in that way, I give thanks. 

In what ways can you show your thankfulness to God by sharing His love with others? What circumstance of your own can you view through the eyes of gratitude? Can you see how helping to shoulder someone else’s burden can lift your spirit, making it actually easier to bear your own load?

Giving Thanks for What I Don't Have originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins. Click here for more posts. Get even more encouragement by following me on Facebook. 

Many of Spring Sight's posts can also be found each week on Crystal Storms' Thoughtful Thursday,  Kelly Balarie's #RaRaLinkUp, Holly Barrett's Testimony Tuesday, Holley Gerth's Coffee for Your Heart, and Woman to Woman's Word Filled Wednesday. I also link up often with Jennifer Dukes Lee and Dawn at Journeys in Grace, as well as with Lori Schumaker.

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  1. Excellent thoughts on the attitude behind gratitude and the action that must go with it. You really can't have one without the other! Thanks for your encouraging post!

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Karen! Have a blessed day.

  2. I love that connection of giving thanks and doing something that loves and gives hope to another. Sometimes a simple act can make all the difference.

    1. Yes, it can, Sue. It is so easy to either do nothing or feel obligated to make a grand gesture, but often a small and sincere effort is all it takes to make someone's day a little brighter.

  3. Hi Linda,
    I'm visiting from Coffee for your Heart and so much of your post resonated with me. Hope is something we need when we're going through a difficult time and to share the hope we have with others!

    1. Thanks for visiting, Valerie! Yes, hope is often the best gift we can give. It makes the victory over our own struggles that much sweeter when we can pass it on!

  4. I give thanks every day for what I do and don't have. If I did not have it, I would not be me and if I had other things, I would not either.

    1. I hear you, Rick. When we accept both what we have and what we don't have as gifts from God, then it is also easier to accept ourselves as WHO we are. As the Bible says, each of us is uniquely and wonderfully made!

  5. There is always someone worse off than us. I remember hearing the story about the man who had no shoes, and he felt bad, until he met a man without feet. Those going through tough times want hope and love and to be remembered. One of our greatest fears is being al alone, and during trials it can feel like we are all alone. Thanks for this encouragement today. To list our eyes and help another. Visiting from HeartEncouragement.

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Theresa. I too have a story similar to the one you shared, about a woman in the red convertible. Driving along, I thought she had everything going for her (compared to poor pitiful me who was struggling at the time) until I actually ended up meeting her. It turned out she had it harder than me. It taught me an important lesson about not comparing my life to others. We never know what the next person is struggling with, so our best bet is to just pay kindness forward to whomever we encounter. God will arrange "divine encounters" so that we can provide hope and encouragement to those who need it most!