Around this time of year my children bring home artwork depicting all the things they are thankful for. When I see that mom and dad are right up there with food and toys I feel good about myself. I’ve done my job. My kids appreciate me (for now). I don’t say it out loud, or even quietly to myself, but deep down I’m pretty happy to be me.
Thanksgiving is a time of year when Americans count their blessings. Ironically, counting our blessings can be exhausting. We have to brave holiday traffic. We need to get the house ready for guests and cook like we’ve never cooked all year. The children need to be clean and well behaved. Our family needs to be happy or at least polite. We need to create a perfect family memory so we can remember how blessed we are. Why is feeling blessed such hard work?
The feeling of blessedness during Thanksgiving is not only exhausting; it is elusive. Some of us can’t think of any reasons we should be happy about our lives. Some of us are separated from our loved ones this year. Some of us have experienced loss. Some of us are nursing broken hearts. Some of us can’t afford to create an idyllic Thanksgiving memory. Why is counting our blessings so depressing?
The problem is that our gratitude is all about ourselves. We are like the Pharisee in Luke 18:11, who prayed, “I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”
Our gratitude tells us a lot about ourselves. If you drew a picture of the things you are thankful for, what would they be? A picture filled with food, toys, and people that make us feel good about ourselves betrays a heart that loves self above everyone else. It would be a lot simpler to draw a big self-portrait.
Sadly, selfishness creates immense pressure and crushing disappointment. I need to work hard to fill that picture with reminders of how awesome I am. When the reminders are not there I feel worthless.
Jesus changes our gratitude. Anyone can be grateful for work, money, comfort, family, friends, and good times. Only Jesus can make us grateful for failure, poverty, difficult people, loneliness, brokenness, sickness, or even death.
This transformation happens when we acknowledge that our greatest blessing is not in being ourselves, but being in Christ. The wealthy and poor have the same blessing in Christ. Jesus shows us that the successful and struggling, the popular and lonely, the moral and immoral are each blessed according to the riches of God’s grace not their individual achievements. Jesus sets us free from the crippling search for blessings in ourselves so we can find the humbling discovery of true blessedness in Himself. He declares we are loved, not because of who we are, but because of who He is. His blessings will not exhaust us or crush us; it will affirm us and give us rest.
We need to be like the tax collector, who would not even lift up his eyes, beat his breast, and cried out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). Jesus tells us that he, not the Pharisee, went home justified. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14).
Yes, give thanks for the good things in your life. But give even greater thanks for the hard things in your life. Jesus is just that good.
What are some other things for which only Jesus can make you grateful?