When I think of gratitude, my mind goes back a few years to when my daughter was in kindergarten. As is typical in October, her class made harvest crafts and read stories about autumn and pumpkins. They also learned and performed a song for parents: Merci, merci, pour ma famille et mes amis (Thank you for my family and my friends). As they sang, I wondered if they, or the teacher, had considered whom they were thanking.

More Than a Feeling
This story reminds me that thankfulness is not simply a song or feeling, or even a discipline, but is always connected to a source and a relationship. While the public school system, and the world, will scarcely acknowledge God as the source of these good gifts, perhaps they would recognize that we have an inner longing to express thankfulness to something—or someone—beyond ourselves.

I don't claim to find this matter of the heart an easy one, even as a Christian. Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I usually see the glass as half empty, or even see a crack in it. I am often perplexed when I meet people who seem inclined to be positive and optimistic. I don't naturally find myself in a posture of thankfulness, but I have discovered and experienced the power of practising gratitude by God's grace.

It's not a self-help exercise to become more of the person you want to be. It's not a season of the year to check off your list. True thankfulness is a gift of God in response to the reality of who God is. Thankfulness, for me, only comes when I live in openness to God's Spirit. It is only in that place of grace and truth that my practice of thankfulness can grow.

Over and over in Scripture, we find the words, “Give thanks to the Lord.” The psalmists and writers of the epistles knew something about the power of thankfulness in the lives of God's created beings. Through thanksgiving, we can come to know God and reorient our lives to God's intended place for us.

Psalm 100 (ESV) reads: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

Making it a Habit
When we enter into thanksgiving and praise, our minds and hearts are reoriented to life in God. If we experience this regularly, our thankfulness can become a habit and heart-posture. This is a transformative life in God. As thankfulness and joy invade my heart, other things begin to shift: I am more likely to see the best in others instead of judging them; I'm more likely to be inspired toward love and good deeds instead of serving myself; and I'm more likely to think on what is lovely, pure and honourable, setting a trajectory for my life toward the things of God's kingdom.

We can be duped by our culture into thinking we are thankful this season by simply going through the motions. But as we fix our turkeys and invite our family over for a Thanksgiving meal, let's consider a few things: Are you celebrating Thanksgiving in all the traditional ways, but notice nothing has changed in the way you treat others? Are you singing the songs, cooking the turkey and maybe even reciting some prayers, without connecting to God, your Creator?

It's alarming to consider we could be like that kindergarten class, singing undirected thanks, missing the opportunity to know God more deeply and find our lives more fully in Christ. Express your thanks to God. Consider whom you are thanking. Rest in the truth that you are his. Open your heart to God's grace, allowing you to perceive his goodness and the gift of his presence. Find fulfilment and true thankfulness in being connected with the source of every good and perfect gift.

Carla Evans lives in Vancouver, with her husband, Jonathan, and three children, where they are launching a new corps called Boundless Vancouver. She studies spiritual formation at Carey Theological College and loves getting outside to enjoy Vancouver's beautiful seawall.

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