But many decades in a wheelchair have taught me to not segregate my Savior from the suffering He allows, as though a broken neck–or in your case, a broken ankle, heart, or home–merely “happens” and then God shows up after the fact to wrestle something good out of it. No, the God of the Bible is bigger than that. Much bigger. And so is the capacity of your soul. Maybe this wheelchair felt like a horrible tragedy in the beginning, but I give God thanks in my wheelchair … I’m grateful for my quadriplegia. It’s a bruising of a blessing. A gift wrapped in black. It’s the shadowy companion that walks with me daily, pulling and pushing me into the arms of my Savior. And that’s where the joy is.
the capacity to respond to adversity with faith and gratitude is not limited to spiritual “superheroes” and biblical characters. For every Joni Eareckson Tada or Corrie ten Boom, there are countless others whose names and stories few have ever heard, who endure the worst that life has to offer and still come up thankful. Not unscarred, not unmoved, not functioning out of reality like robots, but still spotting reasons for hope and promise. They seem to know that the only thing more debilitating than what they’re going through would be going through it ungratefully.
You’re not likely to find thankfulness paired with stories of sacrifice in your average candy and greeting card aisle (where gratitude is thought to live). But out in the byways of real life, a grateful heart must often strap on sword and shield, summon up its deepest courage, and brace itself for battle.
But true, Christ-centered, grace-motivated gratitude fits everywhere, even in life’s most desperate moments and difficult situations. Even when there are no “answers,” it gives hope. It transforms overwhelmed strugglers into triumphant conquerors.
The importance of this matter of gratitude can hardly be overstated. I’ve come to believe that few things are more becoming in a child of God than a grateful spirit. By the same token, there is probably nothing that makes a person more unattractive than the absence of a grateful spirit. I have learned that in every circumstance that comes my way, I can choose to respond in one of two ways: I can whine –or–I can worship!
In other words, gratitude flourishes in the sphere of grace. And that is why the play on words in 2 Corinthians 4:15 is significant. Grace is charis and gratitude is eucharistian because gratitude is a response to grace. Gratitude is the feeling of happiness you feel toward somebody who has shown you some undeserved kindness, that is, who has been gracious to you.
So let’s try to define just what gratitude is in our experience. I have found it helpful to think of some things that might be thought of as gratitude, but really are not. For example, gratitude is more than saying, “Thank you” when someone gives you something. Gratitude is more than an action which we decide to do by an act of will power. You can say the words, “thank you” when there is not gratitude in your heart at all. Custom may dictate that you say the words when you don’t really appreciate what has been done for you. What it takes to turn the words, “thank you” into gratitude is the real genuine feeling of gratitude. Gratitude is a feeling that arises uncoerced in the heart. It cannot be willed into existence directly if it is not there. If you give a ten year-old a necktie or a pair of socks for Christmas, he may dutifully say, “Thank you,” but the spontaneous feeling of gratitude will probably not be there, like it would be if you gave him a new electronic game or hockey stick. Gratitude is a feeling not an act of will power. And it is a good feeling. When it rises in our hearts, we like it. It is part of happiness, not misery. Gratitude is a form of delight.
But gratitude is more than delighting in a gift. It is more than feeling happy that you got something you wanted. For example, if you give that ten year-old the electronic game, he might just rip open the package, say, “Wow,” and walk away and start bragging how much better his game is than his neighbor’s. He might not even give a thought to the kindness you did for him in giving him the game. He delights in getting the gift, but he is still an ungrateful child because his delight is not directed to you the giver. So gratitude is more than delighting in a gift. It is a feeling of happiness directed toward a person for giving you something good. It is a happiness that comes not merely from the gift, but from the act of giving. Gratitude is a happy feeling you have about a giver because of his giving something good to you or doing something good for you.
But one more qualification has to be made: generally we don’t send our employer a thank you note every payday. This does not mean that we don’t feel grateful that we have a job, and that we have the strength to earn money, and that our employer pays us fairly. What it means is that the emotion of gratitude generally rises in direct proportion to how undeserved a gift is. Where work and pay are commensurate, we do not feel pay as an undeserved kindness, but as our due, and therefore the feeling of gratitude is not very intense toward our employer. He has not done us a favor; we have traded favors.