My wife and I struggled with infertility.
During the real difficult stretches, it didn't help that we were part of a Korean church that consistently asked us about when we were having kids. Someone asked my wife if she was pregnant and when my wife said, "No," the lady then asked, "Why are you gaining weight?" (We Koreans tend to be very blunt.)
It got even more difficult when our friends began announcing great news of impending bundles of joy. (It got annoying when friends were making their 4th pregnancy announcement…)
For me, it was the worst when my former youth kids were now married and sharing the news that they were pregnant.
How can I be grateful?
One year, a former youth called my wife to share her great news that she was pregnant. After their conversation, my wife told me to call them and congratulate them myself.
I couldn't. I just couldn't. I was feeling so many emotions. Anger. Frustration. Jealousy. And it was never really aimed at my former youth student. I was blaming God for all the emotions that were coursing through my body.
The worst part was that coming Sunday. I was preaching on 1 Thessalonians 5:18 which reads,
"Give thanks in every situation because this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
I remember praying, "How the hell do you expect me to preach on that after this?"
But my mind kept circling back to the phrase "give thanks in every situation." That "every" was (is) a sticking point with me. I would be able to get behind some situations…or even most situations…but every situation?
But here's what I've learned since that incident: The act of choosing is a spiritual act.
We can choose how we perceive things; we can choose the kind of world we create and live in. We choose how we react.
We can choose to focus on what we're blessed with or we can choose to lament on what we don't have.
The point is, we get to choose. It's just that gratitude isn't often the go-to emotion we choose. We have the choice of how much power we give to our emotions and our responses. We tend to give more power and a bit more of a starring role to things like fear, grief, frustration, anger, regret, anxiousness, jealousy.
So we have to be intentional in choosing gratitude. We have to practice giving thanks. And if we keep building the muscle of gratitude, we find the strength to give thanks in every situation, like Paul said (and did).
I spend way too much time focusing on what I don't have, lamenting on what's not right and pointing out what's wrong.
What we often may not realize is we will always find what we are looking for. We are in charge of the kind of world we create by the choices we make.
Gratitude helps me reframe the world. Being thankful opens my heart; my eyes; my soul to see beauty in this world. Practicing gratitude helps me discover the abundance of God. Gratitude turns what I have into enough. It reveals what I have more than what I need and surprisingly, what I have is enough.
That gives me strength to actually be thankful in every situation.
Paul's not saying be thankful for every situation. He's not asking us to be thankful that our life is a mess and that we keep hitting wall after wall, swimming through pain after pain. He's not asking us to be some crazy masochist thanking God for this unbearable pain that has forced its way into life.
But we find strength in giving gratitude and that strength might lead us to ask, "How will God use this situation?" even in the most difficult of situations.
The more we practice gratitude, the easier it will be to be thankful in every situation. We also create an environment — a world— that, not only makes it easier for others to be grateful, but encourages them to see the blessings around all of us.
In every situation
Back to the opening story, I eventually got over myself and called my former youth student and congratulated her and her husband. I was genuinely happy for them.
As for us, we eventually adopted our foster son, who's on the autism spectrum. He's in a wonderful stage at his life (which I hope never ends) where he thanks people for everything and anything: "Thank you, Daddy, for taking me to the bathroom at Bucee's." (Note: Bucee's is a huge gas station that's like an attraction more than a pit stop). He is also the most joy-filled human being I know. I believe those two things go together. As Karl Barth said: "Joy is the simplest form of gratitude."
May we choose gratitude not just during the season of Thanksgiving — but in every situation. May we choose to count our blessings more and more rather than lament on what we lack.
"If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul." — Rabbi Harold Kushner