Gratitude and happiness are not one and the same. Anyone can be happy to have achieved a goal, to have come to possess a desired thing, or to have received a gift or won a prize. To experience gratitude in any of these situations requires recognition of some kind of indebtedness: you have benefited from someone(s) in significant ways that made possible your happy circumstance.
We tend to take too much credit for our blessings. We think our inborn positive traits are ours alone. We imagine it is our own determined efforts that enabled us to rise to the top in our particular arena of life, to win! The trophies and accolades we hold on to are supportive evidence of our greatness.
It is absolutely true that most people who do excel in any arena have worked hard. One does not become an Olympic athlete without hard work. One does not earn advanced degrees in college without some hard work. Still, the difference between the winners of an Olympic Gold medal, a Silver medal, a bronze medal, and the competing athlete who did not win a medal at all are not defined by qualities like “desire to win” or “hard work” invested. Certainly, there are innate traits possessed by people who excel in arenas of competition that contribute to excellence over which they have no claim of ownership.
The Apostle Paul, writing to the Church in Corinth made this point as he challenged divisive and sinful attitudes within that church. Warning: these attitudes can be in any church or in people who have never entered any church. We can think too much of ourselves. Here is what he said, “For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now, if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7 New King James Version). This is not a rhetorical question limited to an audience 2000 years ago.
This Thanksgiving season I want to encourage you to look deeper. Stop acting as if, in the conception process, you were smart enough to choose from the buffet line of human characteristics that would be yours those which would make you successful and popular. If you are a sober-minded person, you know that there is no such “buffet line” of choice. We are born with our peculiar blend of strengths and weaknesses – which we have been GIVEN. Neither did we get to choose the type family we would be born into or the type community we would grow up in.
Some of us are not grateful for what we have been given because we have always envied those who were given more. The sooner you stop that and choose gratitude for what you DO HAVE, the better off you will be. Believe this: God does not just love the MVP’s of the world. He loves you whether or not you’ve ever won any legitimate trophies. If you know Him, be grateful and live like a Champion, because you are!
I heard it said, “we must play the hand we were dealt.” There is truth in that statement. Instead of envying those with better “hands,” play yours as well as possible. Be thankful that you have a hand to play, that you are here to play at all. Above all, believe the Bible that assures us that our status in eternity will not be based on competition among our fellow human beings, but upon our acceptance of the awesome purchase price for us on the Cross by Jesus, and our surrender to His lordship (1 Corinthians 6:20).