Gratitude is Essential

May 24, 2012

I am not very good at gratitude. I’m great at complaining and thinking about how things should be better. But gratitude is something I sometimes have to work hard to do.

I was on a walk today when I crashed into gratitude. Or maybe I crashed into God… again. Yeah, that’s probably it. I realized (again) that gratitude is not simply essential for life, but for leadership. It is way too easy to look at what’s not working, what’s not happening, what’s not around, and what’s not the way you want things to be.

Of course, my immediate reaction to this is the same reaction I have had to almost every Thanksgiving sermon I have heard (and preached) that almost scolds us into being thankful for the grass and air and little we have while ignoring the reality that our lives are racked with loss, pain, confusion, lack, and struggle. I don’t like those sermons. I don’t like when I’ve preached those sermons. Because I think the reality needs to be named: sometimes life is hard. Sometimes leadership is hard. Sometimes there’s significant amounts of pain and to ignore that truth often violates a person’s spirit.

And it’s true that in the church, there is much to moan about. The loss of interest, the prejudice and snobbery, the monopolizing and bullying, the apathy and exclusiveness. We can’t ignore those things. They exist. They exist in and around the leaders and pastor. They exist in the pews and over coffee between services. In fact, I wouldn’t have the work I have if they didn’t.

Gratitude can be hard when you are faced with the reality. And preaching about how we should ignore those real things and just be thankful doesn’t take into account the woman who has lost her baby, the man who is longing to be married, the young person who can’t get a job out of college and is drowning in school debt, and the elderly person who never sees his kids and has little to occupy his time. It doesn’t take into account the embattled pastor who is working in a church that would rather he serve their needs than Gods, or the tired leader who struggles to find the presence of God in her own church.

So the question is: Can we indeed speak to the realities while still being grateful? Especially as leaders?

Today on my walk, as I crashed into God (again), I realized that yes… we can. Or we can at least try. And perhaps we need to. Perhaps we need to stand in the tension of longing and contentment, the tension of confusion and clarity. To not water gratitude down to a list of moralistic “to-dos” or feel-good holidays. But to stand in the midst of a world that is very often unexplainable in its massive amounts of grief and lift honest hands to God and say, “Thank you,” anyway.

And perhaps this is incredibly important for leaders. We could indeed get bogged down in the daily crud so we eventually drown in the problems and issues and lies and struggles. But we cannot lead that way. So perhaps it starts with recognizing the crud and seeking out God even in the middle of it. So that we are somehow renewed.

And from there, we can begin to solve the problems that plague us and our areas of ministry.

A respected mentor once said to me, “Karen, you have to celebrate even small wins.” Sure, it’s one small thing in the vastness of a million problems, but it’s worth the celebration.

3 Responses to “Gratitude is Essential”

  1. Living within the tension…acknowledging the tension…embracing the tension…

    Is God worthy of our praise and gratitude just for who he is regardless of what he does or does not do? We are so caught up in our instant gratification…results oriented existence that we quickly condemn God for his lack of action. Lord, have mercy on us.

  2. wrenlk said

    Great thoughts! Thanks for posting. I’ve thought a lot about what you have said. I think that it’s not as black and white though. There seems to be a difference between intrinsic goodness of something and actions that depict goodness. They are not mutually exclusive, but it may also be a false dichotomy to draw the line so clearly between “being” and “doing.”

    Is God worthy of praise just for who he is? Yes. He is intrinsically good. But how do we know he is good? Often by what he does, yes? If you look at when he was forming the ancient Hebrews into his people, how does he identify his character? By what he has done. “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt… Red Sea… manna in desert… shoes that won’t wear out…etc.” The psalmist too will state God is good but also states why: loving, kind, forgiving, providing, etc.

    So it seems to me that it’s both/and. And even the New Testament tells us that “fruit” is the way Christians are identified. There is an action that flows from the intrinsic nature of God’s work in us.

    What do you think?

  3. Pastor P. said

    Christianity Is A LifeStyle not just a T.Shirt is the way I would put it. For me that thought of LifeStyle keeps me in the reality that if I cant be grateful for everything then Im going to miss the exact thing God is trying to do in my life. I don’t know the bible inside and out like some do, but I know how to search it for answers and I understand I wont always see or understand the whys and timing of God. However this is where I take “My Stand” All Things Work together for the good of them who love God and are called according to His purpose, I know I Love God, I know Im called for His Purpose, I know this too will work out for my good.

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