“Oh give thanks to the Lord!” cries the Psalmist repeatedly (Psalm 107:1; 118:1; 136:1; etc.). “All your works shall give you thanks!” (Psalm 145:10). “Give thanks in all circumstances,” Paul commands, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1Thess 5:18).
It turns out that giving thanks to God is not only good but good for you: with the success of clinical trials, gratitude exercises and gratitude diaries have become standard in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Books like One Thousand Gifts have popularized the benefits of gratitude.
Why is gratitude so helpful? There are two reasons:
- The usual explanation is that a habit of gratitude keeps us focused on the good things rather than the bad things. A gratitude diary, for example, keeps us on the lookout each day for the good things happening right in front of us.
- But another reason gratitude is helpful is that it invests good things with meaning. When you give thanks, you recognize a good thing as a gift, as something from someone to you. Recognizing good things in life is not as powerful as acknowledging gifts.
Now that gratitude has “gone big,” so to speak, it’s time to bring back gratitude’s sister, “offering it up”. “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,” Paul says, “and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24). What gratitude does for good things, “offering it up” does for bad things.
- When you offer up your sufferings to God for someone else, you contain the bad things in your life by packaging them as a gift and mentally sending them off. The bad things are delimited, set within a kind of box.
- Sufferings that you offer up for someone else are invested with purpose. It’s amazing how much bad stuff we can endure for a purpose: soldiers go through war for their country, athletes go through tough training for a prize, a father grinds through work every day for his family. Suffering is truly intolerable when it feels like a waste. But for a Christian, that never needs to happen.
Gratitude for the good things and offering up the bad. With these two habits, you pretty much have life covered.