Wrestling with Gratitude

by Hilary Horn

By Jeannie Kendall

One of the joys, for me at least, of writing for GodSpaceLight is looking to see what the next theme is. This time however, I have to confess my heart sunk a little.

Gratitude. Oh no, not again. Sometimes it seems I am surrounded by those sharing on social media their reasons to be grateful, or telling me to do so. Am I the only one out there who finds it all rather difficult?

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m generally a cheerful person, though life experiences have taught me to sometimes see the proverbial glass half empty, not full. There are however many things I am grateful for, particularly my family, my friends, and the love of God. But for me the incessant call to be grateful can feel like another demand, a burden rather than an encouragement. Something else I must do when after a lifetime of ‘shoulds’ I am learning to lean on grace.

The theme comes at a time when I am starting to write my second book, which is about tears in the Bible and in our lives – which has to be finished by next May. One friend when I emailed him to tell him replied that he had to check the date to make sure it was not April 1st! Not least as I work 6 days as a church minister, lecture at a Bible college and interview prospective ministers – all things I hugely enjoy – and yes, am grateful for.

The first chapter I chose to write, for various reasons, is a chapter on Tears of Gratitude. In it I had to confess that I particularly don’t like the phrase “attitude of gratitude” which is so popular now on posters and social media. In Christian bookshops you can even buy gratitude journals to list each day what we are grateful for.

The reality is that it can be hard to be grateful in our current society in the West. Much of the media presents the rich, the famous, the super-fit and healthy, or those who have reached the top of their profession. If we are not careful, that can leave us very aware of the things we don’t have, rather than what we do. Sometimes our life circumstances make gratitude difficult. If there are tough things happening in our families, in our health, or in our circumstances, grateful may be the last thing we feel we want to be.

In the church I serve in here in the UK we have just finished going through the book of Acts. As we have followed the story through it is clear that Paul had a really rough time. He was beaten, starved and shipwrecked. He spent the last five years of his life restricted and awaiting trial. While he was in prison in Rome, chained to a guard for two years, he wrote four letters to the churches that he had visited, and we might expect that he would be deeply unhappy. Yet these letters – EphesiansPhilippiansColossians, and Philemon – exude joy. Listen to these words, written during those two years in chains: “Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:19-20, The Message) In the midweek service which we have, we have been looking at 1 Peter, a letter written to people having a tough time, and Peter himself was to be martyred for his faith. Yet among the early words in that letter are these: What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now!” (1 Peter 1:3-5 The Message)

Sometimes life is really tough and we need to be able to say so – to share with trusted friends and most of all with God what we really feel. To cry, yes. We are not called to say we are fine through gritted teeth when it is simply not true. Paul in other parts of his letters is honest that it is difficult. We hold all of our difficulties in one hand, as it were, but Paul would encourage us to hold gratitude in the other. So I will keep wrestling, and bless those of you to whom it come easily. Maybe let me know if I am not alone in my struggle!

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