Someone asked me recently, “What’s the most important thing you ever learned?” To be candid, I couldn’t think of an immediate answer. My mind was racing with so many thoughts. But upon reflection, I answered, “I’ve learned to be grateful.” My friend seemed surprised. He thought I’d say a number of other, more “spiritual” things, so let me share some thoughts about my answer.
Gratitude is the twin sister of contentment. They’re joined at the hip. One can’t exist without the other. One is a choice (gratitude); the other is a feeling (contentment). Choices and feelings always impact one another. I’ve never met a person who regretted being contented. I’ve also never met a contented person who was ungrateful.
I’ve lived long enough to have a lot of memories. I can honestly say I’m grateful for every one of them, including ALL the painful ones. Having pain taught me to appreciate the lack of pain. I’m equally grateful for hurtful things others have said and done. In the midst of them, I’ve learned to crucify my ego. I’ve also learned that hurtful things only have power over me when gratitude is on vacation in my life. With gratitude at the forefront, I find it easy to lay aside the temptation to rehearse or ponder the hurt, because the blessings far outweigh them.
The presence of God has been with me in ALL the pain, hurt, confusion, adversity, fear and desperation. That’s something you don’t really KNOW until you experience it. I’ve always taught others that God will never leave us or forsake us...but admittedly, I never really knew that was true, until I HAD to know it. Losing five loved ones in six years...broken friendships, relational disappointments, betrayals, a cancer diagnosis, a house fire, dreams that never materialized.... God showed up through all of that, so much so that I now KNOW that He never “leaves me or forsakes me” (Hebrews 13:5). My faith is no longer just a feeling; more importantly, it’s a knowing. I’ve learned that He doesn’t give me strength on credit; He gives it at the moment of need...always. For that, I’m so incredibly grateful.
Gratitude. I consider it to be oxygen for the soul. Life is thin air without it. Without gratitude, we go about gasping, coughing, struggling to breathe in the fullness of our existence; not God’s intent for any of us. We create so much calamity of soul by choosing ingratitude. We miss so much. We run past so many wonderful blessings. We give way to squint-eyed skepticism. We over-analyze. We become legalistic, harsh, bitter...and we inadvertently embrace way too much anxiety...in the absence of gratitude.
Gratitude is a room where God resides, ever inviting us in. I believe it’s on His top-five list for His greatest desires in our life. Embracing gratitude allows us to release a whole plethora of unhealthy and unrealistic emotions and expectations. It leaves us at peace with God and self, enabling us to be persons of peace in our relationships with others. It makes us a “life-giver, a hope enhancer, a dream-releaser, a cheerleader for others. It diminishes the obsession with self. It replaces frowns with smiles, desperation with hope, anger with peace, fear with faith, doubt with trust, and confusion with clarity. Its power, reach and scope is unlimited. It’s an inexhaustible well of strength and joy. It’s the inner grin behind the outward smile. With gratitude, we can enjoy life, not endure it...big difference between the two.
What’s the most important thing you’ve ever learned? I’d encourage you to chew on that for a while. Reach down deep inside and flip on the lights in the rooms of your soul. Look on the shelves of your emotions, and in the cabinets of your memories. You’ll find a lot of things--important things--that you may have long since overlooked and forgotten. My guess is that, for many of us, gratitude will be one worth pulling out, dusting off, and placing on the mantle of our heart. It deserves a prominent place. Few things teach us more about God, life, ourselves...than gratitude. Blessings to you.
By the way, I’m grateful for you.