by Dan Reiland
Thanksgiving is such a wonderful time of the year. It seems to be the official launch of the holidays as it invites special family moments, great food, and a reminder of what really matters.
Traditions are part of Thanksgiving. My family has watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade since I was a kid and now my kids watch it too! It started in the mid 1920’s and has provided us with 85 years of family entertainment loved by millions. I think it would be fun to join the huge crowd in the streets of New York to experience it live. But then how do I get home in time to watch football with everyone?! Of course, the big deal is the big meal. Wow, so much amazing food. My mom used to make a sweet potato casserole with a few pineapple pieces on top, we all fought for those prized pieces of pineapple. Personally, I love the stuffing! So, the classic question – what’s your favorite part of the turkey? White or Dark? What a great day!
Gratitude is the heart of Thanksgiving. Gratitude is the emotion and giving thanks is the expression. It is possible for you to be grateful, but not express it. If you don’t express it, your gratitude will begin to diminish. It’s true that a bad habit can corrupt what is otherwise a good virtue. What are you grateful for? Do you take time to say thanks throughout the day? From thanking God to expressing appreciation to a co-worker, gratitude is never out of place.
Unfortunately, as leaders, we face gratitude blockers while we pursue gratitude builders. Our ability to overcome the former and embrace the latter makes all the difference in the world. Let’s look at three of these gratitude blockers.
If you are withdrawn from healthy relationships, to any degree, your gratitude will begin to decline. You were never intended to lead or live within any sense of isolation. Sometimes however, leaders hide. They pull back and self-protect. Most leaders do “hide”, on rare occasion, but only for a short period of time. Leaders who get stuck in that pattern of behavior begin to hide (not be their true self) more as a lifestyle. This can be due to pressure, insecurity, and sometimes because they have been hurt or betrayed by people. There are many possibilities. But the point is that without consistent mature friendships and solid family connection, the natural result within the human psyche is to become needy (genuine need of relationship) and therefore making it difficult to be grateful.
On the surface this gratitude blocker appears more simplistic. As a leader you are tired. Simple enough. But why are you tired? How long have you been tired? How long does it take to restore your battery? Can you restore your battery? There is a difference between two common realities. The first is working a good long day and being exhausted, but with a good night’s sleep you are fresh and ready to go again. The second reality is that no amount of sleep seems to give you a rested feeling. Stress in ministry can do that, and when that happens, gratitude is far from your mind. You are likely to go, albeit subtly, into survival mode and there is no energy left for being grateful. Establishing normal work and rest rhythms along with healthy relationships is essential.
I wear glasses and my vision condition has been described as functional myopia. Years of a very focused and close up world, (people and study), has caused my eyes to see well close up, but far away things become blurry. Some leaders see life that way. It’s possible for them to adapt and get accustomed only to their own way of thinking. They may have trouble with wider views and bigger pictures. When this happens your perspective can become distorted and it’s easy to slip into a complaining mode. (Things just won’t always go your way.) This can grow to frustration, and even negativity. To the degree any of this happens, gratitude is at a minimum difficult if not impossible as a way of life. Leaders must always work on seeing the big picture.
At times I think I move so fast, that the speed of life causes me to miss the good things and the things of beauty right around me. It’s easy to find compassion and gratitude within me when I travel internationally, especially to third world countries. There is an immediate and inescapable awareness of all the blessings that I have in life, and potentially take for granted. I am so grateful in those moments. But I don’t live there; I live in a land of plenty, in fact, a land of excess. I can get accustomed to this as normal, and then expected. When a blessed lifestyle is taken for granted and expected, gratitude begins to decline and it’s replaced with complaining. That is a sad way to live. I try to live aware of the many good and wonderful things around me everyday. They are good gifts from the Father above, and I am truly grateful. That is a great way to live.
Essentially gratitude is a choice. I can choose to be unhappy or grateful. (Most ungrateful people are unhappy people.) It really is that simple. It’s not always that easy, but it is that simple. Each day when I get up I can choose to be thankful for what I have or focus on what I don’t have. That is true for you too. I was once challenged at a retreat to make a list of everything I have that I’m grateful for, and the challenge was to list everything. So I started writing. By the time I had filled three pages, single-spaced, I got the message. I set my pen down and was quiet before the Lord. Embarrassed for ever focusing on what I don’t have, I resolved to focus on all I do have!
Psalm 100, one of my favorite Psalms, says it well. “Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. 2. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. 3. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. 4. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. 5. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
We are wise to enthusiastically worship our great God! Scripture calls us to be intentionally happy and joyful in our praise. Yes, there are dark days, but take those to God too. He made us, knows us, and loves us! God is good and faithful! When that is the disposition of your heart and mine, we will both find gratitude a natural part of our life as Christian leaders.
May you enjoy a blessed Thanksgiving holiday.