My suspicion is that most of us are not nearly as grateful as we should be.
You have a lot. I have a lot.
We put on a good face for Thanksgiving, and maybe even update our Facebook statuses outlining our gratitude.
Sometimes we make a list (public or private) of what we’re thankful for, but deep down…there’s a discontent.
And if you’ve read this far, you know it.
So many leaders (and people) I know have a gnawing dissatisfaction that leaves us feeling less grateful than we know we ought to.
In light of all we have and God’s faithfulness, why are you not more grateful?
There are at least three things that kill gratitude.
Here are 3 things that show up in my life and the lives of other leaders I track with.
Identify and keep them in check, and gratitude grows. Leave them unattended, and gratitude dissipates:
1. High Expectations
The secret to happiness, as you may have heard, is low expectations.
Think about that.
If you had no expectations of anyone or anything, you’d be happy. And grateful.
This might one of the reasons those of us who have been on mission trips are always so shocked at how happy the poor in other countries seem to be; they expect little and are grateful for what they have.
I’m NOT justifying poverty, I’m just saying there’s little denying that the poor in the developing world often display far more gratitude than the rich. Unrealistic expectations might also explain why so many rich and middle class people are so miserable.
So…as a leader AND as Christ follower, husband, dad and friend, probably the biggest gratitude killer for me is high expectations.
My expectations of myself are very high. And they’re also high of others.
I think I know what you’re thinking. Well if my expectations weren’t high, then what would happen to my life/organization/mission?
Perhaps there’s a subtle but important distinction between standards and expectations.
A high standard is not a bad thing. You should set high standards for yourself and for your church or organization.
But when those standards become expectations, only disappointment ensues, because you’re dealing with flawed people.
When you invite people to live according to high standards, you help bring out the best in them. Who doesn’t want to live a better life?
Keeping them as standards (not expectations) allows you to celebrate their success when it happens and to allows you to come alongside them and encourage them in the event of failure.
Think about your last seven days? Chances are every time you got angry or frustrated with someone it was because you expected something and they felt short. Expectations just make you miserable.
Now, keep the standard of behaviour the same, but instead of expecting they would do what you hoped they would do, come alongside them, talk about the standard, and help them reach it.
Totally different isn’t it?
2. The Thirst for More
If you had what you have now back when you were 15, you would have thought you won the lottery, wouldn’t you?
And yet chances are you feel you don’t have enough. As this article points out, almost everyone feels like they need more money to be content, no matter how much money they make.
Advertising in the Western world is built on the idea of discontent. The very thing they sold you last year as the ‘best’ and ‘greatest’ isn’t good enough.
This desire for wanting what you don’t have shows up sexually as lust, financially as greed, in diet as gluttony and in power as ambition.
The reality, of course, is that ‘more’ never delivers what it promises. Or if it does, the satisfaction is temporary and is followed by an even deeper emptiness. Having had what you desired only to have it disappoint you is more bitter than sweet. And, left unchecked, you plunge yourself right back into your quest for ‘more’ hoping that the next acquisition will finally satisfy you. Which, of course, it won’t.
The best way I know how to battle the thirst for more in my life is to call it for what it is—an empty, vain pursuit. For sure, being grateful for what I have is definitely part of it. But simply acknowledging sometimes out loud before God that this chase is bankrupt also helps.
I need to allow God to determine size. I simply need to be obedient. And then if more does come my way, obedient with what I have. It’s God’s, after all, not mine.
Fuelling the thirst for more and high expectations is comparison.
Think about it. You were fine with what you had…until you saw what someone else had.
Comparison fuels jealousy, envy, greed and selfish ambition.
And while I love social media and the hyper-connectedness we have today, it can pour jet fuel on the envious blaze already ignited in your heart.
The New York Times calls it the agony of Instagram, and they’re right. Scrolling through someone’s oh-so-perfect life can make you feel worthless compared to their perfect chef’s kitchen and artsy dining room table.
Every preacher is now stacked up against every mega-church preacher courtesy of podcasts and online church.
And even if your people don’t compare you, you compare you. Why do we fight a battle we lose every time?
One of my all time favourite Andy Stanley series is Comparison Trap. In it, Andy says the cure for envy is to celebrate what God has given others, and leverage what God has given you.
Becoming More Grateful
While gratitude is complex, I know I do best when I
Drop the expectations but keep the standards.
Realize that more never delivers what it promises; and
Celebrate what God has given others, and leverage what God has given me.
How about you?
What helps you become more grateful? Because sometimes making a list of what you’re thankful for just isn’t enough.
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