What Is Gratitude, Really?

I don’t want to raise selfish humans. Period. I also don’t want to be a selfish human.

But sometimes, in some moments of the day, I see a sense of ingratitude in my kids, or in myself, and it infuriates me, down to my core. Then I wonder, where have we gone so completely wrong that these hooligans (whom I love dearly) can come into a room, demand a snack and turn around and walk away, without a shred of decency or even the thought that perhaps a please might be in order? Or that I can simply complain and gripe my way through an entire day without a single ounce of gratitude for the simplest of things?

So how, in a world of instant gratification, indulgence, wealth, consumerism(to which I’m often a slave) technology that offers us everything we “need” at the touch of a button, and entitlement, do we teach our kids, and our grown selves, gratitude?


We must practice the art of gratitude daily. Through the valley’s and on the mountain tops. Through the scrubbing of the vomit out of the carpet to the vacuuming of all the Goldfish from the tiniest crevices in the back seat. From the unruly pre-teen to the terminal parent, we must practice this act of gratitude. We must come back to the root, to the worship, which reminds us that it is not at all about us. It’s about Him. The one who made us and gave us breath.

“Practice is the hardest part of learning, and training is the essence of transformation.”  ~Ann Voskamp

One of my favorite books on gratitude and thanks is One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. I wrestle and debate this issue often, of gratitude specifically in our children, of raising them to understand what they have and to more importantly, hold loosely to it. To give it. To be willing to lay it all down for the sake of Christ. But is this my heart? Do I hold loosely to things? Or do I constantly strive to consume more, have more, be more, do more, and never settle into where God has me right now?

Ann talks about a word in the book called eucharisteo…..thanksgiving, and how this act of giving thanks always comes before a miracle. The miracle, really, is a heart change. A shift in focus. A change in the position of our souls to welcome whatever comes into our lives with open arms, whether the mundane act of cleaning the toilets, again, to sharing the gospel with someone across the street to finally feeling grateful for a valley because we realize that’s where the life grows. The trees don’t grow at the Summit of the mountain, they grow in the valley where the ground is fertile and lush and the soil can support new growth. You can’t see the view from here, in this valley, but you can rest knowing that what’s being planted there will reap a harvest of fruit.

This eucharist word is also connected to the words gratitude, to show favor, grace, and my favorite, to rejoice. What in the world does rejoicing have to do with gratitude?

I would say everything.

We often tell our kids, at least the older two(because this is a hard concept to grasp) that changes in behavior start with changes in their hearts. Setting your mind to change something that is a habit or struggle or even a part of your personality takes more than just a strong dose of self-discipline. It takes a heart change. And when it comes to gratitude, it’s all in the position of our hearts.  When they(or we) are rejoicing, they can not in fact be ungrateful. You can’t both rejoice, and feel ingratitude at the same time.

So, preceding the thanks, always comes rejoicing. Praise. Worship. If our hearts are in a position to worship and praise the one who gives and the one who also takes away, if we can rejoice in either of those scenarios, we can give thanks for whatever comes. We can give thanks for the laundry or the sick child or the struggling marriage, because God does not leave us in these desolate places alone. He promises His presence to those that accept Him, and He promises to come in and do a work in our lives, right down to adjusting the position of our hearts to be that of gratitude and thanksgiving.

“Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what He gives. We hunger for something more, something other.” ~AV

Does it mean we understand? No. Does it mean it’s always fair? I don’t know. God is a fair God, a just God, a gracious God. So although our circumstances don’t always seem fair, we have to trust that they serve a purpose, because this world is a temporary home. It’s a stop. It’s an opportunity for us to make much of Him in a place that’s broken and in need. For us to love our neighbor, regardless of their lifestyle or station. It’s an opportunity for us to choose kind, as so many are seeing with the release of the movie Wonder this week.

“Humbly let go. Let go of trying to do, let go of trying to control, let go of my own way, let go of my own fears. Let God blow His wind, His trials, oxygen for joy’s fire. Leave the hand open and be. Be at peace. Bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love and whisper a surprised thanks. This is the fuel for joy’s flame. Fullness of joy is discovered only in the emptying of will. And I can empty. I can empty because counting His graces has awakened me to how He cherishes me, holds me, passionately values me. I can empty because I am full of His love. I can trust.” ~AV

So choose joy. Choose thanks. Choose gratitude. Choose to rejoice. We’ve been given this amazing ability to choose how we respond to the life we’ve been given. I want to respond well. To respond with thanksgiving even when I don’t feel it, because then, with the release of ourselves and the open arms to accept what comes, we will experience the miracle, the blessing that comes with a heart that chooses to give thanks.

“Joy is the realest reality, the fullest life, and joy is always given, never grasped. God gives gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap the gift given: joy.”  ~AV




*professional images courtesy of EmilyMeganPhotography

6 comments on “What Is Gratitude, Really?

  1. Of course Sara!! thanks for reading and yes girl yes, stopping is my biggest(well one of) struggle. Slowing down. Geez. so hard. xoxoxo

  2. Thank you for this post. I needed this reminder today. I also struggle in how to teach my kids the practice of gratitude. AND remembering that I need to halt my busyness and just worship Him.
    Sara (LongLeggedMooser)

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