Through humility, gratitude, and remembrance, we can truly learn how to give thanks.
As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.John F. Kennedy1
In 2014, Kevin Durant, an American basketball player, was named Most Valuable Player. When he received his award, he delivered a memorable acceptance speech. Durant thanked his teammates and friends—nothing out of the norm there—but then he spoke directly to his mother.2
“I don’t think you know what you did,” Durant told her from the podium. His eyes welled with tears. “The odds were stacked against us: single parent with two boys by the time you were twenty-one years old. Everyone told us we weren’t supposed to be here. We moved from apartment to apartment by ourselves.”
Durant went on to recognize his mother’s contributions to his own success. He took an incredible opportunity to thank her in a very public way.
Like Durant, you may want to give thanks for people, circumstances, and things in your life. And though you may not have a podium from which to do so, the expression of your gratitude can be just as powerful.
Intentional thankfulness can make quite the difference in our perception of the world around us. Let’s take a look at three elements of implementing a lifestyle of thanksgiving.
Inward Attitude: Humility
As with so many things, we must begin within. The first step is the development of an inward attitude of humility, which centers on the realization that we’re not more important than anyone else. Consequently, we do not innately deserve more than anyone else. In fact, a humble person rejects altogether a mentality of “I deserve this.”
Humility leaves no room for thoughts of entitlement or privilege. Adopting a humble mind-set shifts our approach to life from demands and expectations to acceptance and satisfaction. With this transition comes a greater appreciation for life and a more natural inclination toward thankfulness.
Christians believe the Bible contains God’s foundational teachings on a variety of topics—thanksgiving included. Ephesians 5:19–20 explains when and for what to give thanks: “Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
People who begin to give thanks always and for everything start to see the world in a new way. The circumstances, people, and things once considered commonplace are now special. The areas of life that once seemed inadequate now reveal themselves to be full of substance and meaning.
In his speech, Durant recalled a childhood incident that was particularly meaningful to him. “One of the best memories I have is when we moved to our first apartment. No bed, no furniture—and we just all sat in the living room and just hugged each other. We thought we’d made it.” Although some people may have considered this situation less than ideal, Durant saw it—and still sees it—as profoundly special.
Like Durant, people with an attitude of humility see the undeserved beauty in life. This kind of mind-set helps one find the good even in tough situations. In fact, in the absence of entitlement, a difficulty can be simply accepted and dealt with as a reality. French novelist Alphonse Karr wrote, “Some people grumble that roses have thorns. I am grateful that thorns have roses.”3
For example, perhaps as you develop this mind-set you stop complaining about other cars in traffic and instead notice a pink sunset in the distance. A painful break-up may provide insight into the ways you can love more intentionally. A stressful work project becomes a reminder that others have faith in you to get the job done. Your home, vehicle, and meals—fancy or simple, new or old—are now all seen and respected as precious gifts.
In every circumstance, humble people ask, “For what can I be thankful?”
Outward Expression: Gratitude
This attitude of humility naturally leads to a spirit of gratitude. People who become aware of kindness and goodness around them often begin to wonder, How can I repay these undeserved gifts?
The Bible also provides instructions on the repayment of an undeserved kindness: “Sacrifice thanks offerings to God; fulfill your vows to the Most High.”4 An offering of thanks is an acknowledgment of and repayment for a sacrifice made for you.
For example, Christians believe Jesus willingly sacrificed his life so they could have a personal relationship with God. In response to his extraordinary gift, Christians show their thanks to Jesus in direct and indirect ways. They sacrifice their time to learn about and worship him at church and in Bible studies. They sacrifice money to extend his message of hope to others. They even sacrifice certain behaviors in order to live righteously as Jesus commanded.
Likewise, there are many ways to acknowledge and repay sacrifices that other people have made for you. A positive testimony, for example, is a powerful way to recognize excellent service from a person or organization. Telling friends about a local business or posting an online recommendation helps establish its good reputation.
Another way to show thanks is to honor the legacy of a person through a commemoration or memorial. A new mother may name her child after a grandmother who deeply impacted her life. Showing honor can also take the form of intentional belief in someone. For example, a boss who is impressed with an employee will trust him with a position of greater authority.
Yet another form of gratitude is consideration for another person through prayer. A citizen who is thankful for his country may pray for the integrity and direction of his leaders. Our thankfulness for our friends and family may compel us to pray for their well-being and happiness.
Perhaps most important of all, grace is a form of thankfulness that offers love and forgiveness to others. A Christian who believes Jesus loves him despite his sins is willing to love others despite theirs. He may greet an irritable coworker, a gruff stranger, or even an ex-spouse with a warm, “undeserved” smile.
Purposeful Permanence: Remembrance
The final element of thanksgiving is remembrance. Remembering what has been done for you is pivotal in living a life of gratitude.
The details of everyday life can easily clutter our minds and hearts. A kindness can be quickly forgotten amid small disagreements, daily stressors, and selfish desires. Over time, a relationship, workplace, or community may grow cold with feelings of under-appreciation and dissatisfaction.
Gratitude is maintained through purposeful remembrance. Grateful people consistently choose to recall, dwell on, and treasure good memories, even though it may not come naturally. They follow some very sound advice from the Apostle Paul: “Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”5
Focusing on the remembrance of past kindnesses establishes a legacy that can endure years of ups and downs. Spouses can preserve their intimacy with each other; friends can preserve their appreciation for each other. And years later, a boy can become a man who has preserved what his mother did right.
A Life of Thanksgiving
“When something good happens to you,” said Kevin Durant, “I tend to look back to what brought me here.” To his mother, he recalled, “You’d wake me up in the middle of the night in the summertimes, making me run up a hill, making me do push-ups, screaming at me from the sidelines at my games at eight or nine years old.”
“You made us believe,” he continued. “You kept us off the street—put clothes on our backs, food on the table. When you didn’t eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us.”
And then he—this man at the top of his career—looked quietly at his mom and concluded, “You’re the real MVP.”
Humility, gratitude, and remembrance—through these three, we truly learn how to live a life of thanksgiving.