Thankfulness: A Way of Living, Not a Feeling

Boy, am I thankful for coffee. Can I just get that out of the way? As I sipped my decaf latte and stared out the window between jotting paragraphs of this article, I remembered how overjoyed I was when my midwife told me a little caffeine during pregnancy is perfectly fine. I wouldn’t say I’m addicted to the stuff, I just love that nutty coffee taste and the routine of drinking it as part of my morning routine.

I also got to sit in Starbucks and drink that latte. I was thankful for that, too—a privilege not all my friends have in the days of quarantines and lockdowns. And I was thankful for a vehicle to get me to that Starbucks. And thankful for the freedom to choose a Starbucks run over the gym.

But I’m not thankful for those things because they express the perfection that is my carefree life. I actually chose Starbucks that morning because I’d been dragging my tail and my heavy heart in the dirt behind me for three straight days. A week before that morning Starbucks run, I had to let my canine companion of 3.5 years go before undetected late-stage cancer stole his remaining quality of life—one of the hardest decisions I ever made. The week before that, my favorite coffee shop where I’d spent many prayerful moments in fellowship with friends and countless wonderful weekend writing mornings shut down unexpectedly, leaving me barely a moment for a last drink and a goodbye.  Two weeks of nonstop travel for work and friendship amidst those storms brought me to a place of mental, emotional, physical, and even spiritual exhaustion.

Yet that morning, I chose to be thankful.

Thankfulness – Do We Feel It Or Choose it?

For a good chunk of my life, I viewed thankfulness as a feeling engendered by circumstances; I would feel thankful if someone gave me a gift or did something nice for me, or if God answered a prayer, etc. I treated gratitude like it needed to be precipitated by a specific event or circumstance…which also made it very easy to feel ungrateful if things didn’t go my way, if I felt overlooked or forgotten. 

It was really the example of others that changed my perspective on things. When you see someone in tough circumstances emanating thankfulness, you can’t help but wonder…are they waiting around to “feel thankful” when things improve, or are they pulling a Paul-in-prison-ala-Philippians, where he gives thanks constantly despite his imprisonment, torture and other dire life circumstances? If a sickly person can be thankful for God’s provision, a homeless person share what little they have, or a man in chains can give thanks in every circumstance, then our thankfulness can’t be hinged solely upon  things going right. 

Turning this on my own difficult circumstances, I thought of my dog, “I can either be upset I had to let him go or grateful for every wonderful moment we had together.” Of the coffee shop that sadly closed, “I can be angry it’s gone or cherish the memories made there.” I couldn’t change what happened in either case, but I could choose to approach the outcome with a sense of being robbed of two things very precious to me, or I could give God praise and thanks that I ever had those things to begin with.

I’m choosing the latter.

Even when things are difficult, we can choose a perspective of gratitude, to give glory and praise and thanks to God for His fingerprints in our lives. This by no means diminishes the gravitas of what we suffer through, say goodbye to, or go without—but it does ensure that we keep our hearts and heads pure, not sliding into bitterness but keeping an eternal, trusting perspective especially when it comes to God.

What Are Some Things to Be Thankful For?

While pondering the topic of thanksgiving, there were several things that returned continuously to mind—things we can focus on regardless of circumstances that will help us zero-in on an “attitude of gratitude,” because they are unshakeable spiritual realities. Thus, in any circumstances, we can give thanks that:

  • Jesus laid down his life to cleanse us all
  • There is hope to anchor our souls
  • Eternal life in a glorious paradise is guaranteed for those who confess Jesus as Lord
  • There is no condemnation in Christ
  • We can humbly approach God’s throne with any prayer or petition
  • We are loved beyond measure by the Creator of the universe
  • We are redeemed to new life in Jesus
  • We are guarded by powerful spiritual forces day and night
  • We are of immeasurable value to God and He will provide for us as He does for all creation
  • Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus
  • We are equipped for the spiritual battle no matter how dark it may seem
  • God delights in us and wants us to experience true joy
  • Death is not the end of the story for those who follow Jesus
  • We were created with purpose, for a purpose—our lives have intrinsic value

Phew! That’s a lot, and not even the entire list! I could go on and on, but for now I encourage you to read and reread these points—they are all scripturally sound spiritual truths that can and should bring us joy, hope, encouragement, and yes, inspire us to live in a mindset of gratitude day by day! Regardless of whatever trials we face, whatever sorrows, whatever hardships, these realities remain secure. We can trust them and turn to them and choose to be thankful for them, and for many others like them, no matter what pain or distress comes our way.

What Are YOU Thankful For?

As we approach the Thanksgiving weekend here in the United States, I encourage us all to take real time to dwell on what we’re thankful for this year. 2020 brought unique opportunities to gain perspective on gratitude, circumstances notwithstanding. If you’re like me, you may even want to make a list of the things that inspire your heart to be grateful; not just the usual things like family, friends, and a good Thanksgiving dinner, but the joy of gathering together at all, or the wonder of a newly-fallen snow, the blessing of taking walks in the clean air, or the brilliance of a teaching, prayer, or prophetic word that strikes straight to the core. The more we focus on that attitude of thankfulness, the more we begin to notice things to be grateful for…even in hard times.

For my part, this week I’m giving thanks for three healthy cats who know when extra cuddles are needed; for the baby growing in my body; for God-words that pierce like swords, setting apart truth from error and elucidating His plans in my life. For His protection and provision and all the little ways He proves Himself faithful, just, and true, day after day, moment by moment—even in the hardest ones.

And of course, I’m always thankful for the first sip of that good ol’ latte.

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  1. Awesome!!! This really hit home:) Thank you for sharing your heart.

  2. Dear Ms. Dugan: I thank you for this wonderful article. Your thoughts, ideas and recommendations are a welcome gift: clear, honest and inspirational and will be put to good use. Sincerely, Paul

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