Each day we have a choice to make when we wake up – will we express gratitude and thanksgiving to God for this particular day with all the blessings that await us, or will we choose to focus on the problems and uncertainties of life, allowing our particular worries to control our worldview?
We all know positive and uplifting people who live life with a grateful, vibrant spirit and thus, radiate contagious joy, inner contentment and a deep happiness. These people encourage, build up and nourish all those whom they encounter. They stand in stark contrast to others who choose to focus on the negative, who complain about the unfairness of life, grumble about all that they don’t have, and who drain the spirit out of life.
We must realize, though, that the choice we make each day clearly reflects the authenticity of our relationship with Jesus Christ and our understanding and living out of our Orthodox Christian faith. To live in Christ, and have His Spirit dwelling within us automatically implies a life of gratitude and thanksgiving!
If we strive to walk with our Lord, from the moment we wake up until the end of each day, and consciously try to dwell in His loving presence, our entire outlook in life cannot but be one of appreciation and gratefulness.
We have our loving, merciful and compassionate Creator and Father watching over us, walking with us, guiding us in all our steps, carrying us when we are tired or afraid, comforting us in our moments of distress, and ultimately filling us with His abundant Spirit and continual presence. If we understand and believe all of His precious promises to us, His beloved children, how can we not express unceasing gratitude and thanksgiving for all life brings!
Our Christian faith proclaims Good News of God’s unconditional, unending, personal love – a divine love which surpasses all other blessings. A love that forgives us our countless and continual sins. A love that values us and cherishes us in our uniqueness. A love that heals us from our deepest brokenness, loneliness and illness. A love that doesn’t abandon us in our final moments of life and death, but gives us hope and even victory over death itself. A love that continues into eternity!
When we understand our Christian faith, and sincerely strive to walk with Jesus Christ and allow His Spirit to dwell richly within our hearts and minds, a positive and grateful attitude becomes a beautiful and apparent fruit of our faith.
Saints throughout history displayed this joyous and gracious spirit despite any and every injustice, difficulty, and challenge they faced. They understood the fundamental element of an authentic Christian life – that God is with us always, and will never abandon us. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ! And understanding this created a grateful heart!
The Apostle Paul was one who was unjustly beaten, imprisoned, ridiculed, rejected, and often near death, for no other reason than he tried to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. At one point in his life, he even wrote, “we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had a sentence of death in ourselves.” His situation, though, didn’t lead him to despair or become pessimistic. In fact, the opposite occurred, where his spirit of gratitude only increased.
He writes, “We learned not to trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10)
St. Paul had every logical reason to complain and pessimistically look at life. Instead, he chose to allow every situation to draw him closer to God, trusting in our Lord’s merciful compassion and abundant grace. He could tell his fellow Christians to “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say rejoice!… For I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know what it is to have nothing, and I know what it is to have much. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me… And my God shall supply all our needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4,11-13, 19)
St. Paul even thanks God for “a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan which buffeted me,” because he learned the invaluable lesson that “God’s grace is sufficient for me, and God’s strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)
St. John Chrysostom, who preached before thousands of people who loved him as the Bishop of Antioch back in the 4th century, and then reached the highest position in the Church as the Archbishop of Constantinople, ended his life in exile when the Byzantine Empress turned against him. He was forced to march through the bitter winter snows to his death, and yet the last recorded words of his were, “Glory to God for all things!” Despite his situation, he understood that “in all things God works together for good to those who love Him,” and thus, he could face his suffering end even with gratitude and thanksgiving!
As we celebrate our national holiday of Thanksgiving, it’s a great time to reflect on what role gratitude plays in our daily lives, and think about how we can make thanksgiving a more central part of who we are.
One simple yet powerful habit each of us can begin with is to start our day with an attitude of gratitude. Before we get up out of our bed each morning, let’s make our cross and then thank God for 5 things in our lives. Each morning throughout the week, try to thank God for 5 different things. If we begin each day and week in this manner, it will help cultivate and nourish that spirit of thanksgiving and gratitude.
May you all have a blessed and joyous Thanksgiving celebration!