To be perfectly honest, I haven’t done a great job of being thankful for this particular season in my family’s life. Instead, I’ve worried, been anxious, and cried a lot about what I can’t do or can’t fix or can’t help with or can’t be around for. Some of the tears may be due to third-trimester pregnancy hormones, but some of them were probably just inevitable.
Pregnancy seems like an easy circumstance to be thankful for, right? God is literally knitting together a tiny human inside my body! Especially after losing a pregnancy last October, you’d think gratitude and thankfulness would be at the top of my emotional radar. In some ways, it has been, but in all reality, I haven’t enjoyed being pregnant. I guess I always assumed that I’d love it. Experiencing the miracle of life firsthand and being in awe of how God has made our bodies? What’s not to love? Well, it turns out morning sickness isn’t always just a morning thing. Sometimes it’s a 24/7-nausea-for-the-first-20-weeks thing. And your body just does some weird stuff when you’re pregnant and your doctor will call it “normal.” And being real tired is just par for the course, preparing you for the first months of a newborn. Who knew?! While none of these things are unbearable, gratitude has required a conscious choice. I have consistently needed to adjust my expectations for what I thought this nine months would look like to be grateful for what they really do look like.
I think a lot of a lack of gratitude in various situations can be traced back to an expectations war. I expect one thing and when it doesn’t happen, gratitude goes out the window. Am I the only one? Maybe you’ve experienced this scenario this week? Even on Thanksgiving Day itself? Were your sister and her family late to dinner? Did dinner include the dish you were hoping for? Did your family end up arguing about something inconsequential? Did your kids behave? Your cousin’s kid drive you nuts? So many expectations that we may not even realize we have, right?
So, how do we fight the expectation war and let gratitude be the victor? A couple of weeks ago, my pastor walked us through a section of Colossians 3 and how it relates to worship, but I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind as it relates to gratitude, especially as we entered this week of Thanksgiving.
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:12-17
This passage mentions gratitude or thankfulness three times in just 5 verses and gives some clear instructions for how to get there. Here are a few of my observations about turning our hearts toward gratitude.
Be intentional. This whole passage starts with, “Put on,” and the end of verse 15 gets right to it: “And be thankful.” I find that when my heart is wavering and when my expectations aren’t met, my natural, selfish response is never going to resemble anything like thanksgiving or gratitude. Unless I consciously stop my thought pattern and choose to be thankful. I can choose to look at nausea I’m experiencing and be grateful for it because it means there are hormones at work to make a baby. We can choose to be grateful for the family members we share a meal with even when others are missing from the table. We can choose to be grateful. It may not be easy, but we get to choose.
Remember your identity. Take a step back and look at how this passage begins—with a reminder of who we are as believers: GOD’S CHOSEN ONES, HOLY AND BELOVED. This is not a light thing, friends! When, as followers of Jesus, we stop and recognize that our biggest problem (separation from God our Creator) has already been solved, how can gratitude not flow from our hearts?! God has chosen me. Called me holy. Loves me with a perfect love. Who cares if I’m really tired for a small chunk of my life? What does it matter that grandma didn’t make her famous rolls for Thanksgiving dinner this year? GOD HAS FORGIVEN MY SIN BECAUSE I AM FOUND IN JESUS. Remember who you are, friends—gratitude is sure to follow.
Be in the Word. The instruction in verse 16 is to, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” as you interact with other believers, “with thankfulness in your heart to God.” Reality check—how’s that going? Are you in the Word? Is it dwelling in you richly? I think this is related to the identity observation above… if I’m in the Word, my identity in Christ is ever before me. If I’m not, my unmet expectations cloud every thought and I reach for anger, frustration, worry, and bitterness. But if I’m daily rehearsing the gospel? Totally different story… thankfulness in my heart is a natural response because I see over and over again the goodness, grace, mercy, and faithfulness of God.
So, that’s how I’m choosing to fight the expectations war. Sometimes I’m choosing it day by day, and other times I’m choosing it minute by minute. And, sometimes I’m not fighting it at all. But I want to. I want gratitude to win. I want thankfulness to emerge victorious in my heart. You pray for my heart and I’ll pray for yours—let’s fight together.