'It's impossible to be grateful and miserable at the same time!'
Posted by Chris Scott (Senior Leader Bridge Church)
I read this somewhere and it made me think: 'It is impossible to be grateful and miserable at the same time!' Now this may sound like quite a broad generalisation, but I do believe that essentially its true.
If you don’t believe me try it! Try giving thanks to someone through gritted teeth. Try expressing your heartfelt appreciation to a loved one for all the warmth and joy they bring into your life, and do it with a clenched fist! It’s just not possible!
Gratitude and discontentment are mutually incompatible. Just like light and darkness, or heat and cold, they simply cannot co-exist together at the same time. Of course this does come with a massive challenge to us all. Whilst gratitude is certainly a powerful antidote to misery, here’s the thing, it only works when we choose to inject ourselves with it! Gratitude is a choice not a feeling. True gratitude is proactive not rective. We can choose to be thankful, or we can choose to be grumpy! We can choose to focus on what we have, or choose to moan about what we don’t have.
Now here is the problem with choice, or its big brother, 'free will' It always puts the ball firmly back in our court. You don’t want to hear this I know, but here’s the truth. We cannot justify our miserableness, moodiness or grumpiness, nor can we blame it on others, if the truth is that we are personally responsible for choosing to be that way!
Ouch...well thats how it feels to me anyway!!
Now hear me right. I am not saying it’s an easy choice. It very rarely is! But it is the choice that will consistently liberate us from the bondage of misery and self-centeredness; and extinguish the narcissistic flame of entitlement and discontentment that secretly lives deep within us all.
An attitude of gratitude is more than just making a one-off choice. It comes from making a habit of choosing thankfulness every time we are presented with an opportuntiy to make that choice! A life of contentment and joy is simply the consequence of a lifetime of making positive choices and adopting a thankful attitude.
I love the story of DL Moody, the great preacher of the early 19th Century, who arrived home one night bloodied and beaten, having been set upon by group of thugs. His assistant helped in inside the house, and began to wash his wounds, raging about the wickedness of those who had carried out the attack. DL Moody stopped him in mid-sentence and declared his thanks and praise to God. His aide was was stunned and asked how he could be so thankful, and Moody responded ‘I have three reasons to be thankful to God. Firstly, that I survived the attack and was not killed. Secondly, I had very little of value that they could steal from me, and thirdly, that it was me they attacked and not someone else...Praise the Lord!!’
Now that’s what I call an attitude of gratitude. I am sure Moody slept much better that night than he would have done if he had held on to all that angst and disgruntlement of being dealt such injustice. He chose gratitude and it transformed how he handled what happened to him. He didn’t allow it to control him.
This may all still seem counter-intuitive to you. We may admire Moody’s attitude but surely happiness and contentment is dependent on what happens to us? Well, no it isn't. True gratitude is not driven by emotion or feelings, but a personal choice. In fact, the Apostle Paul goes even further than that as he declares gratitude to something we can learn! Bear in mind also that Paul was bound in handcuffs. and incarcerated in a dirty, deep, dark prison cell, when he wrote these words to the church in the city of Philippi.
‘I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. Phil 4:11
Contentment flows from gratitude, and gratitude is a choice. Even though you may feel you have little or no power over your situation, you always have full control over your response. So, stop being a victim to every circumstance that comes your way, as that will only lead to a life of constant unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Here’s the key! If you don’t feel it, learn it! Yes, if thankfulness is not your natural reaction to the stuff in life that proverbially 'hits the fan', then start learning how to become more appreciative of the good stuff. Start making intentional choices to be thankful, even in the smallest most insignificant things and it won’t be too long before that starts to become your default reaction.
Someone once said 'when you have a piece of cheese stuck to your upper lip, the whole world smells like cheese! How true that is. Adopting an attifude of gratitude won't prevent bad stuff happening to you, but it will protect you from slipping down that dark hole of perpetual self pity and negativity.
The Psalmist says in Ps 103v2 'Bless the Lord (ie. give him thanks and praise) and forget not all his benefits' As humans we often have very selective memories. We remember the bad stuff far more vividly than the good stuff. We overlook the basic joys in life, and take them for granted. Waking every morning is something to celebrate. Remember thousands will not. To have a roof over your head, food on your table or clothing is a grace of life that is a gift and not a right. It doesn't have to be an Armani suit or a Michelin starred restaurant to be considered something worthy of our appreciation. Be thankful when you gaze into beautiful sunset, or see the smile on a newborn baby, or feel the warmth and affection of a loved one. For most of us we assume these are a right, but they are a gift, and we should appreciate them daily.
So, you cannot be thankful and miserable at the same time. If you are a ‘glass half-empty’ kind of person, and being thankful doesn't come naturally to you, then start by taking a few small steps. Identify, appreciate and celebrate the small wins in life and remind yourself regularly of the goodness of God to you.
Remember the grass is not greener over ‘there’, it's greener where you water it. Be intentional about developing an attitude of gratitude and your world will begin to look very different......and start today!