Taking Gratitude To The Gym

Resting with family. Enjoying a table covered in a holiday buffet. Sitting back in your favorite house slippers, maybe warm cider or a freshly-brewed cup of coffee in hand, watching the parade in the living room by a blazing fire, either fueled by real wood or gas, while drifting off for a quick nap.

These aspects of the holidays are quite spectacular. We love cramming 12 people on the couch. We live to have 3 siblings in the recliner. It’s weird if there aren’t 7 cousins on the love seat just so we can all be in the room together. Telling jokes and old family stories. Remembering great memories of those that aren’t with us this year. We love this part of the holidays.

And at some point during the meal or fixing leftovers or making sausage balls or listening to the fire snap, crackle, and pop, someone lets out a sigh and says:

“Shew, there’s so much to be thankful for, isn’t there?”

You take it in, look around the room, and respond warmly,

“There sure is. There sure is.”

Thankfulness That’s Easy

The thing about the scene painted above is that I don’t know many people that wouldn’t be thankful for that kind of scenery. What’s not to like about food, family, and a good pair of house slippers? Cider is delicious. Couches are comfy. Sausage balls are unrivaled. I don’t know about you, but usually the moments where my mind is directed towards gratitude during the holidays filled with turkey and stuffing and stockings and trees are moments that make a lot of sense. They’re moments when being thankful fits right at home. It’s a welcomed emotion, a rightly placed set of thoughts.

Gratitude in these moments feels right.

But what if our gratitude went a bit further. What if, while easily observing all the good around us and getting our healthy dose of thankfulness from those moments, we brought in the not-so-good, the not-so-pretty aspects of our painted holiday picture, and learned how to be grateful for what some of those areas in our lives have produced?

What if we took gratitude to the gym this season and gave it a good, old fashion, sweat-filled work out? What do I mean? Why’s this important?

Godly Gratitude

In his book, Side by Side, Ed Welch discusses the importance for us to notice the good in others. He admits that many people are hard to deal with, hard to talk to, hard to encourage, and difficult to be even be around. But he challenges the Christian, in the midst of knowing those unattractive things, to bring out the good and speak to the grace we see in others’ lives. He says that as we do this, as we notice the good and affirm those things, we begin to see people how God sees them and that being able to do that is a blessing. [Welch, Side by Side, Crossway, 2015, p. 88]

It’s interesting though, isn’t it, because the holidays can be some of the hardest times to be positive. The holidays can actually be some of the hardest times to actually be thankful. As a result, we can end up being overly negative and in the end not to much fun to be around. The gratitude God calls us to have isn’t simply looking around at everything, spotting the easy targets, and shouting “I’m thankful for that!” That’s easy gratitude. That’s going to the gym and handing gratitude a pair of 1 lb. weights. I believe the Scriptures call us to go a bit deeper.

To stretch the muscle and toughen it up.

Push it past what’s comfortable.

Go beyond the obvious and the effortless. Take your trust in Christ and apply it to your gratitude.

When we trust Christ with our lives we can be grateful in and for situations we wouldn’t have chosen for ourselves.

Give Gratitude A Work-Out

It makes sense that holidays, times of the year when family gathers together, elevate your sense of awareness concerning your family’s past, i.e. those once in your family that are absent from the family gathering for reasons of death, divorce, separation, anger, or apathy. Sadness increases. Sometimes anger. Confusion. And more times than not, bitterness and contempt find their way to a seat at the table with all the holiday fixin’s. This is true for many of us that have brokenness in our families and tension within our family relationships. This makes holidays a different scene.

As a result, the holidays can become the prime arena for us to gather round and speak negatively about those missing, complain about how things went and how they could’ve gone, argue over who was right and who was wrong. But again, gratitude is more than putting a square peg into a square hole. It’s more complicated than that.

Gratitude doesn’t solely belong in the moments where it makes the most sense to us to express it.

Gratitude and thankfulness belong in the moments, the conversations, the interactions, and the thoughts where, for us, they seem out of place and irrelevant, as well as the ones where they seem perfect. Welch continues in Side by Side,

“All of us can see the good in our friends. Scripture, however, authorizes us to see the good and enjoy it in all people, even when most of us are not always so good. This will encourage others, increase our affection for them, and make it much easier to talk about things that are hard.” [p. 93]

It’s easy to be thankful for things and people that are fun, easy, affirming to us, make us feel good, and easy to love. But Scripture, just like calling us to love our enemies, it calls us to be detectives of goodness and mercy and grace even in the people we can’t find evidence on the surface. [1 Cor. 1:4] My mom has always been so wonderful at this. She is such an encouragement to let me know the good qualities I got from my dad. Whenever I laugh really loud or tell a joke in a funny way she looks at me and says, “You laugh like your daddy.”

There it is. Pulling good out of someone that for me hasn’t always been on the “happy thoughts” side of things; someone that is missing during the holidays. But I want to see the good. I want to pull out grace.

Scripture must be our lens for seeing grace in the people of God that hurt us and those we often view negatively.

And so, for this holiday season of 2015, and I pray beyond, here is me giving gratitude a work-out. This is me aware of the obvious but turning my gaze to the not-so-obvious and the not-so-pretty. Here are some reasons why I am thankful for the Lord giving me my dad:

  1. I am thankful for his laugh and his humor. My mom and family have told me how funny he was and how I got my sense of humor and laugh from him. I am thankful for this.
  2. I am thankful for the creativity and intelligence of my dad. This is another thing that my mom and family mention to me that we, my brothers and sister, got from him. I love thinking creatively and challenging my mind. I am grateful that the Lord gave me a dad who was creative and had a bright mind.
  3. My dad loved surprising us. From Yoda figurines to yellow VW Beetles (my sister’s favorite car, and as it turned out, her first car). This is something I love doing for my family, whether it be small presents or showing up unannounced a day early to spend more time together. I love surprising those in my life. I am thankful for learning this from my dad. He was so good at this. I am grateful for this part of his personality and his heart.

I pray this be a challenge to us all, to look into those not-so-pretty areas or situations or people in our lives and grab a microscope and our detective glasses to be detectives of grace and mercy and joy during this season. I pray we all give our gratitude and thankfulness a good, solid, trip to the gym so that we can look at the world, and ourselves, the way God does: with love and grace.

Jonathan C. Edwards (@NotThePuritan)

Jonathan (M.Div, Th.M) is the Director of Curriculum for Docent Research Group. He is the author of "Left: The Struggle to Make Sense of Life When a Parent Leaves," available now!

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