Exotic and vibrant colours, tall and dangly, flinging themselves over the edge of the vase, weighed down by their glorious heads. I love Dahlias – I’ve just discovered them. Hadn’t really known about them before, and I had certainly never planted any, but this year I had a go–resulting in a glorious chaotic jumble of flowers and leaves and long stems, all tripping and falling over one another! But what joy! Every time I open the front door, I can’t help but smile and a sense of gratitude arises within me for this stunning display of glory and wonder, for the transformation of seed to flower, for the sense of summer that they bring to my little patch, even when the sun is not shining.
An article in the magazine Psychology Today states this, “Whether you choose to write a few sentences in a gratitude journal or simply take a moment to silently acknowledge all that you have, giving thanks can transform your life.”
A couple of thousand years ago, St. Paul, follower of Jesus, writing to the church in Thessalonica encouraged them to, ‘Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus’ (1 Thess 5:16-18, emphasis mine).
When we have so much – more than enough daily bread, comfortable homes and clothing, pensions and healthcare, church community, good coffee and Dahlias, why do we find it so hard to be grateful? Is it that we have grown complacent and take it all for granted? Even assuming, perhaps, that we have a right to live as we do, forgetting that every good gift comes to us from the hand of God (James 1:17). When Paul wrote to those brothers and sisters in the first century, he was not addressing people who had access to doctors, to a plethora of material goods, or to overloaded supermarket aisles. He was speaking to men and women who lived without electricity or running water, who ate the same meals day in and day out!
I believe that a sense of real gratitude for the material and physical aspects of our lives is certainly a big step towards true contentment. However, dig a little deeper and we unearth longings and strivings, a restlessness and an unease in our souls that is more profound and less easily placated. When we think on what might have been, on our regrettable choices and those dreams still unfulfilled, that’s when true contentment still eludes many of us.
To experience contentment in spite of these stirrings, is to understand the nature of God. This peace springs from knowing who He has been for us, who He is for us today and who He will be for us in the years to come. Our confidence in the consistent, unswerving, faithful and good character of God must elicit from us a level of gratitude that in turn produces the peace spoken of by Jesus and also described by Paul as that which passes human understanding and reasoning.
This, surely, is contentment, with or without answered prayer. Its confession is the goodness of God defined by who He is and not by our feelings or the circumstances of our lives. Its expression is born of an unshakeable faith in God who is for us and not against us, ever. Gratitude for His willingness to keep us and sustain us and hold us in the hardest of times. Gratitude in the mystery of not knowing and not understanding the whys and the whats that life throws at us. Gratitude that God is who He says He is, and that we are who He says we are – nothing more, nothing less. Full stop.