The Trouble with Being Thankful
When Gratitude Rots on the Shelf
Mission trips need a warning label:
And no. That’s not a good thing.
In fact, if you have experienced feelings of thankfulness after a mission trip (maybe you’re even experiencing thankfulness right now!) you might be at risk. If you are unsure if you are experiencing thankfulness, gauge your emotional response when you start thinking about your family, your bed, your full fridge, your clothes, your friends… If you are experiencing symptoms of gratitude – heightened sense of worth, sense of peace, warm fuzzies – you need to keep reading!
Here’s what happens on mission trips: You start to recognize that there are people in this world who go without some of the things you might take for granted every day – job opportunities, solid education, food in the fridge, a fridge, a home, a support system, consistent care, daily encouragement… For the first time you might realize that those things are not part of everyone’s story. And that’s one of the reasons mission trips can be so meaningful – because you get out of your everyday context and begin to better understand others. And a common, kneejerk reaction to this new understanding is gratitude for the good things in life.
And gratitude is good! …if you use it.
Thankfulness is kinda like a brand new iPhone. You have the iPhone. You take it with you everywhere you go. You feel good about it. But you never turn it on.
That’s crazy, right?! Because an iPhone is not actually that awesome when it’s off. What is awesome about an iPhone is that it might give you better connectivity with friends, help you find your way when you’re lost, capture really great memories and share those memories with others… and tons of other things. But if you don’t use it… well… it’s just a shiny block you carry around with you.
That’s what thankfulness is like.
It’s like that when you begin to believe that thankfulness is the grand finale of a rich experience of serving and learning from others. After the teamwork and the “aha!” moments and the new relationships and the stepping out of your comfort zone and the “so much more!” what if all you got was a shiny block of thankfulness?
Here’s the thing: Thankfulness is good! God tells his followers again and again in Scripture to be thankful:
“Devote yourself to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” (Col. 4:2)
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Col. 3:15)
“…give thanks in all circumstances…” (1 Thes. 5:18)
But go ahead and read the surrounding passage each of those verses sits in. (Go ahead! Click on the references above.) Every time these invitations to be thankful are couches in instructions to do something!
We are to be thankful not as an end, but because gratitude takes us down the path toward authentic worship, humble service and deeper love.
You see, thankfulness on its own is like…
…fresh produce that grows moldy on the shelf.
…marveling at beautiful wings but never jumping from the nest.
…that pack of Mentos that is just sitting there next to a dormant bottle of Diet Coke.
Thankfulness that doesn’t energize expires.
Thankfulness that simply preoccupies misses its purpose.
Thankfulness that is kept separate from our actions will never combine to create something explosively wonderful.
So if you are thankful – be thankful! But don’t let thank thankfulness become a shiny block you carry around with you. Turn it on! Use it to fuel your devotion to God, your humble service to others and your deep love . Don’t allow your gratitude for God’s goodness to rot on the shelf.