One of the principles she uncovered in her reading and thinking on the subject is that of perspective. We see what we have in perspective. When we see our lives in the context of the bigger picture, we find gratitude even in difficult circumstances.
A valuable observation.
However something has been troubling me about how I hear people express gratitude, or how I observe my own thinking on the subject.
Sometimes perspective becomes comparison. We find thankfulness by looking for ways in which we are better off than so many others in the world, or even than so many others in our own neighborhoods.
Our thoughts and speech goes something like this.
The flu season has been rough this year, but at least I'm not struggling with a serious illness like....
I sometimes wish our house was bigger, but so many families our size are living in apartments.
My husband's salary isn't what I want it to be, but at least he's not unemployed.
These are all true statements and do, for the moment, make us feel grateful.
But the danger is, what if we make a comparison, and we come out on the bottom? There is always someone worse off than me, but there is also always someone better off.
And in the unstable human heart, comparison quickly turns to competition, and when I come out on the bottom, I sometimes unconsciously seek how to devalue the person who has come out on top.
She may have lots of money but she probably doesn't have such a great marriage.
She seems to have a great marriage, but her kids are really struggling with...
The real perspective, the safest one, the kindest one, the truest one -- and probably the one Jennifer realized and lectured on -- is the true bigger picture.
I have what I am meant to have. I am grateful to be me.
You can't really be a Christian without some sense of destiny, the idea that on a mysterious level, God is in control. Though there is conditionality or cause and effect in the Bible -- blessing follows obedience -- equally true is that some things God determines.
My life is a gift from the Creator of the heavens. My personality is a gift from Him. My talents and gifts are literally gifts. And my flaws, which are basically the flip side of my gifts, my gifts on steroids, unchecked, overbearing, are also what I am meant to have in one sense.
So though I try -- work, train, strive, struggle -- to do my best with what I've been given and be creative with my life, which is my right and responsibility as a woman made in the image of my Creator, I have to work with what I've been given. Ah, destiny. I can't be someone I am not.
So the positive side is...I am who I am meant to be.
Or at least I am the rough version of who I am meant to be. And my life is about moving closer to the perfect version God has held of me in His mind since before I was born, as it says in Psalms 139.
Our pastor Kenton Beshore gave a sermon on the 23rd Psalm many years ago, and it has been with me ever sense. My favorite portion was from verse 5.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
This is a Psalm of gratitude, Kenton said. God has prepared a table before you, and you should accept it with thanksgiving. If you don't feel thankful, maybe its because you're looking at what someone else has on their table. Eyes on your own table, boys and girls!
The table is a surprise, perhaps, and it's set in the presence of my enemies; the challenges without and the flaws within me have not been removed as I feast. But I am safe, to sit down and enjoy what's on the table, because God told me to.
In the meantime, my head is anointed, a sign of God's favor and a purpose spoken over me, as a king was anointed in ancient times as a way of marking him for his role. And my cup is filled to overflowing. My cup might not be as big as yours is, or it may be bigger. But it's my cup, set on my table. God is setting one for you too.
As the gratitude season -- brought to us by the Pilgrims and Facebook -- comes to a close and we enter advent, the season of waiting, I'm anticipating what God will lay on my table. I'm praying, as I feast, to get a glimpse of the Big Picture, a true Perspective. I'm saying grace, asking for the ability to drink up everything He pours in my cup.