When I became a parent it quickly became clear to me that we are not born into this whole “attitude of gratitude” thing. Just because the quote is catchy or it looks good on the cover of a journal doesn’t make it inherent. Besides the makeover that started in my heart (not always voluntarily) in the first several months of my twins’ lives outside the womb, I soon witnessed one of the most ungrateful stages in humanity: the toddler phase.
The most common word in a room full of two-year-olds is “mine.” Whining is pretty much a given, followed occasionally by “pwease” before a soft-spoken “thank you” enters in. When I examine myself, I realize my inner toddler still lives and reigns at times. Maybe yours does too. We want what we want when we want it and “thank you” is too often an afterthought.
We say it as a matter of habit or manners rather than a deep-felt expression of gratefulness. And this pattern isn’t just present when we ask our spouse to pass the pepper, sometimes address God in this same mundane way — saying “thank you” out of habit rather than out of our hearts.
I’m convinced it’s not malice that causes us to act this way; maybe it’s simply familiarity. We get used to something being there and we take it for granted, forgetting to tell God “thank you.” A couple of years ago, I recognized this was happening in my own life thanks to some amazing new girlfriends. Praying with my decades long friends will always be one of my favorite things to do, but praying with these new friends lit something up in me I didn’t know was dormant. These particular women have a way of praying with immediate and fervent thankfulness! And when they do it is convicting.
Here’s what I mean: they begin their prayers by thanking God that they even woke up this morning. What?! They thank God that they can breathe, move their body parts, have a home to live in and family members close by, that they’re well. Regrettably I admit, this should not have blown me away so much, but it did because this unfortunately has not been my habit.
All of the things they thank God for are on a list of the familiar for many of us. I probably wouldn’t have named it this way before, but they are “supposed” to be there. It’s a list of things I take for granted.
But that kind of thinking, taking for granted what should be seen as special and divine, puts the focus on me and mine (which will always leave me anxious and disappointed) instead of focusing my attention on God and His goodness.
In Athens, Paul becomes acquainted with people who, among their many idols, have labeled one “To an unknown god” (Acts 17:23). Paul sees the opportunity and quickly preaches the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, telling them he knows who they’re referring to on this labeled idol. That even though they have been looking in the wrong place (to idol worship) God has made Himself known to them. That even though they didn’t realize it, God was not far from them even in their everyday lives. What Paul told them was that this “unknown God” is the one true God that gives every single person life and breath (v. 25). He is the One responsible for our creation from the beginning of humanity and He is the One who sustains each of us every single day since then.
The concept was new to the Athenians, but it’s old to us and the freshness wears off at times. We’re so used to being sustained by a gracious God that we forget to pause and say “thank you” for waking me up and giving me breath. This season of covid hasn’t brought many good things, but what it has done is refresh in me a new sense of gratefulness for life and breath and health.
As we’re still dealing with the virus and moving into the familiar seasons of Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas, we can take a look at our own hearts and ask ourselves what we have been taking for granted and where we can give God our undivided, renewed, thankfulness. Not out of habit or manners like we teach a toddler, but to embrace a true, heartfelt attitude of gratitude.