Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: THANKFUL (11/14/19)
- TITLE: Where My Joy Comes From
By Justine Wolfley
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Many follow the tradition of sharing what we are thankful for at Thanksgiving. â€œIâ€™m grateful for my health,â€ or â€œI am thankful for my home,â€ or â€œIâ€™m glad I have you all in my life,â€ are examples of the sentiments shared. The blessings we receive makes us feel good. However, Linda Arnold, M.A., M.B.A, shares that a 75-year Harvard study reveals that a major key to happiness is actually found in the unconditional love and gratitude we lay in the foundation of deep relationships. According to Arnold, and most mainstream thinkers, it is better to give than to receive.
Whether giving or receiving, it seems there is a common element missing when counting blessings that may explain why the holiday season is a time when depression and anxiety are at an annual high. The fact is, life does not resemble the stereotypical image on those holiday greeting cards or social media posts. As much as we try, obtaining that level of perfection is impossible. If we are honest, a root of bitterness may take root when we fail. Bitterness is the opposite of thankfulness.
People today struggle with self-image, contentment, and anxiety. Unprecedented numbers of people strive for wealth, success, and perfection. Bookstores and the internet are saturated with self-help and motivational tools with the common messageâ€¦ happiness can only be produced by doing more, being more, and attaining more. Then, after precious resources are spent pursuing an elusive dream, there is little to show for it besides the feeling that we do not measure up, because we are not good enough, have enough, or give enough.
If that is you, let me share a story from Acts 16:16-40. Paul and Silas encountered a slave girl, who was a fortune-teller. She began to follow them around calling out, â€œThese men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.â€ Paul became frustrated after a few days of this and commanded the controlling spirit to leave her. The owner of the slave lost his money-maker. In anger, he used his influence in the community to have Paul and Silas thrown in prison.
The apostles were stripped, severely beaten, shackled to the prison floor, and shut away in the dark. Paul later wrote, â€œThese little troubles are getting us ready for an eternal glory that will make all our troubles seem like nothing. Things that are seen donâ€™t last forever, but things that are not seen are eternal. Thatâ€™s why we keep our minds on the things that cannot be seenâ€ (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, CEV).
Suppose for a moment, you were transported from your Thanksgiving feast to visit Paul in that cell, would you ask, â€œWhat are you most grateful for?â€ What do you think he would say? Paul received almost nothing in support. He had little or nothing to give. Paul never said, â€œIf I believe it, I can achieve it.â€
The reality is, happiness cannot be found through human effort alone. From the story we learn that around midnight they were so overwhelmed with thankfulness that they began to sing praises to God. Why did they do that? Merriam-Webster defines thankful as being â€˜conscious of benefit received.â€™ There is a big difference between the thankfulness resulting from receiving or producing a benefit, and the thankfulness that comes in reflecting on the eternal things not yet seen. Paul and Silas began to worship God and thank Him in their circumstance.
When we forgo complaining, comparing ourselves with others, and seek to find contentment where God has us in the moment, then no root of bitterness can grow. Note that Paul did not thank God for his pain and suffering, but instead he thanked God in the moment. He had a conscious confidence that God would see him through it. Gratitude was not the result of a blessing. Rather, a blessing came through gratitude for a loving, caring God that is faithful to meet every need, every time. And God was faithful. He not only set the apostles free, but many came to know Him as a result of two men being thankful.
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