This Thanksgiving is a chance to reflect once again on my “Gratitude Quotient.” I concluded that I’m happier than I’ve been in many years, and for this I’m grateful.
However, as I wrote about in a blog several years ago, two disturbing things are evident: (1) I’m still not nearly as grateful as I should be for all the ways God has blessed me; and (2) Many of the things I’m now MOST grateful for are past events I wasn’t grateful for at all when they were taking place.
I call this second point “gratitude in retrospect,” the phenomenon of being grateful today for situations I once grumbled about. In a recent blog, I described this as The Manure Effect – God’s ability to use the “stinky” experiences in our lives to fertilize us for greater fruitfulness in the days ahead.
Perhaps you can relate. Have you gone through difficult times when it was extremely difficult to give thanks? But now, as you look back, you see that the Lord was at work through it all. Gratitude (finally!) rises in your heart as you see how the painful events have been beautifully woven into the fabric of your life.
- Maybe you had a relationship breakup that tore your very heart…but it paved the way for the Lord to provide someone much better in your life.
- Maybe you faced a severe trial in your health…but it caused you to make lifestyle changes in your diet and exercise – and now you’re feeling better than ever.
- Maybe you lost a job you thought you’d have until retirement…but God opened (or will open) a new door that’s a much better fit for your gifts and passions.
- Maybe you’ve experienced a financial meltdown, such as foreclosure or bankruptcy…but you learned vital lessons that eventually put you on the path to prosperity.
- Maybe you went through some other difficult experience that has now given you a platform to help others.
These are just a few examples of how “gratitude in retrospect” can occur. I first noticed this in my life a few years ago, when a friend suggested that I write a book about church splits. “That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard,” was my initial thought. “Even though I’m an expert on church splits, who would ever be interested in a book about that?”
But my tech-savvy friend pointed out that thousands of people every month do a Google search on the subject of church conflict. “Wow. There must be a lot of people dealing with this,” I concluded.
As a result of that conversation, I eventually wrote The Church Split Cure. This was a great example to me of Paul’s statement that we can comfort others with the same comfort we received from God during our own times of affliction (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).
Working on my book about church splits sparked something much bigger in my heart than just a new book project: I discovered that God had been a lot more faithful than I had given Him credit for. And I became much more grateful for the difficult things I’ve experienced in life – even though my gratitude was too often in retrospect.
I’m still troubled by my struggle to be grateful at the same time as my trials are occurring. The Bible instructs us to give thanks “IN everything,” not just AFTER everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
I’m also sad that although I’ve given lip service to Romans 8:28 for decades, God’s amazing promise there is still not rooted as deeply in my life as it should be. Paul had gone through incredible trials (2 Corinthians 11:22-28), yet he said, “We KNOW that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
As the truth of Romans 8:28 becomes more a part of my life, I hope to become more grateful all the time – not just in retrospect. I want to become increasingly aware that God is always working to “connect the dots” in my life, creating a masterpiece I could never have imagined during my times of adversity.
So I pray you will join me in being grateful TODAY – no matter what the day brings…no matter what you may be going through. You may not understand it all today, but you can be confident the Lord is working out His wonderful plan nevertheless.
And if you find yourself grateful, in retrospect, for some painful experiences in the past, I would love to hear your story. God is faithful gardener, and He doesn’t want that manure to go to waste!