Real Gratitude

by Katie Dudgeon

November 25, 2020


Gratitude is pretty en vogue these days. Whether it comes up during a podcast, is mentioned at the end of an exercise class or engraved on a bracelet, the word itself is even hard to avoid! It seems like everyone from marketing to mental health is encouraging us to nurture those thankful vibes and embrace a posture of gratitude.

And then 2020 came along, bringing a pandemic, racial reckoning, an election and fires. For those of us living in California, we are not just referring to the figurative “dumpster fires” that describe the chaos of this year, but ACTUAL. LITERAL. FIRES. Yikes!

To survive this incredibly unsettling and unpredictable year, I have definitely tapped into that culture of gratitude that surrounds us. Staying focused on what I am thankful for: what is good, what is encouraging, what is inspiring and what is grounding. Part of surviving the subtle and not-so-subtle frenzy of this year has meant dwelling on the good things rather than feeding the frustration about what could have been—or what should be.

But I have realized that my modern version of gratitude is missing a key element that the Christian tradition has long-valued. Gratitude, as found in Scripture, is much more than an appreciative heart and positive outlook. The psalmists show us over and over that directing our thanks to God is just as important as the actual practice of giving thanks. When it comes to cultivating gratitude in my own life, though, I can easily stop short of the who and focus solely on the what.

Have you found this to be true for you as well?

A couple years ago I sat around the Thanksgiving table in Berlin during a round of sharing. Eyes were misty as we listened to the moving accounts of goodness and hope breaking through the darkness and difficulty we had experienced that year. It was hard to deny the simultaneous sense of hope and humility we all felt in the retelling of those moments. There was something about reflecting on what we were thankful for that pointed to something more, something beyond us.

James reminds us that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” So it is no surprise that His good gifts—the things we are so thankful for—evoke such meaning for us and prompt us to consider something transcendent. Every good thing we experience is a reminder, a reflection, a symbol pointing us right back to a good God.

What would it look like to fully appreciate what you have, while also letting those good things draw your eyes up to a loving God? What would it look like for you to develop the habit of giving thanks to God, not just for things? Modern gratitude movements may not encourage us to do much more than be thankful for the good in our lives, but that doesn’t mean our experience of gratitude must stop there.

James 1:17 “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

Katie is one of our global workers serving in Berlin, Germany, since 2013. She focuses on helping Christians engage the urban context to see lives, communities and cities transformed by the hope of the gospel. She is currently in the US, spending way too much time on Zoom and enjoying her fill of Mexican food.