The late afternoon sun slipped lazily below the tree tops giving sudden relief to the sweltering countryside. At the back of the yard two boys can be seen toiling persistently away on a new fence."
Well Daniel," exclaimed Peter, grinning enthusiastically at his cousin, "this is the last fence post for today! I can hardly believe how much we got done this afternoon; I never could have done it all without your help. Thanks a lot for coming over!"
A few minutes later finds both boys at the end of the driveway. Pushing off on his bike, Daniel begins coasting homeward. "Hey," Peter calls after him, "be sure to tell Aunt Beth and Luke thank you for me, I sure..." A passing truck drowns out the rest of his words."
What?" mumbled Daniel glancing back, a puzzled frown clouding his face. "Why on earth does Peter want me to thank Mom and Luke?" he wondered aloud, "neither of them helped on the fence."
As we work on cultivating gratitude towards God and then begin looking for ways to express that gratitude of heart to those around us the questions "to whom should I be grateful, and for what?" will probably cross our minds. I know they crossed my mind and although some of the answers are quiet obvious others are not. One really obvious thing is that there are a lot of people in life, the amazing thing is considering how many of them have, in one way or another, touched our lives and influenced us. Some have done physical things for us, some spiritual things. Others support and encourage us in our work and vision while others have indirectly benefited us in some way. In this article we will be considering some of the specific people who fit into each of these groups and a few of the things they have done. Many of my close family and dear friends have actually touched my life in all of these areas, you may find that the same is true for you as well. I was really amazed as I began discovering how much I have received from others!
Let's go ahead and look at those who do physical things for us. Our Dad and Mom should be the very first people who come to mind when we start thinking about physical things for which to be grateful. It was they who brought us unto the world, fed and clothed us, gave us a warm bed to sleep in and provided us with a decent education. On top of all that they gave us the love we needed and disciplined us so that we could discipline ourselves. I wonder how many things our parents gave up and went without so that they could raise us and impart to us those things which they thought were important. I wonder how many good night's sleep they forfeited because we were sick and how many pleasant things they refrained from doing because they had a prior commitment to us. For every one obvious things which we see, the food on the table, the warm house, the books to read, there are undoubtedly several underlying things that made the former possible. What did it take for them to put three meals in front of you every day? (That's approximately 1,000 meals just to feed you for an entire year.) What about that nice warm house, how much sweat and labor did your Dad put into keeping the wood pile high? Our parents have invested between 20 and 40 years of their lives into raising a family! That is amazing!
Now there are a lot of other people who do physical things for us as well. Start with those who are closest to you, yes, your family members, and then work out from there. After you have started showing gratitude to your parents add in your siblings. Brothers and sisters are such a wonderful gift from God. Often we don't fully appreciate just how special they are to us until they start leaving home and we begin missing their company and talents. Some of us also have grandparents who input into our lives. Think about what they have done, not only for you but also for your parents, for without your parents you wouldn't be here! Those of us who are married should take a close look at all the things our spouse does for us as well as keeping a lookout for those things that our children do. Close family friends are also quite often involved in doing physical things for us, so consider them next. Teachers, doctors and nurses are some other people who have, quite often, given their lives to serving others, so think about them and see to which ones you need to express your gratitude, as well as, any other individuals who have imputed significantly into your life!
Moving on from there you may also want to consider people who do services for you. Have you ever thanked the mailman? Or given the person who stocks the shelves at the grocery store a bright happy 'good morning' and a quick smile that says 'I'm glad to see you today'? What about the customer service person who helped you with that messed up order? As you brush shoulders with people throughout your day ask yourself, what would it be like if he didn't do that job for me? No delivery of mail, no stocked shelves at grocery stores, no customer service people to correct errors in orders. I think we'd miss them don't you? So no matter how obscure or disdainful the task rendered, just ask yourself, what would it be like if they didn't do that? Now find a way to express that gratitude.
Let's move on now to consider those who do spiritual things for us. I grew up in a Christian home so my parents are, quite naturally, the first people who come to my mind when I think of people who have been a spiritual blessing to me. It was they who taught me from God's word and while still a child pointed me to the Savior. It was they who encouraged me to go on and study His word and to come to know Him as Lord. It doesn't really matter who told you about the Lord Jesus Christ and the life of abundance and peace that could be found in Him, this is definitely something for which you should be grateful to God, as well as to the person He used to tell you! The Minister of your church is a man who receives little thanks, but stop and think for a moment of all the teaching and exhorting he does, of how much he trains and encourages his people to walk with the Lord. Here is a man who has influenced your spiritual life. He is worthy of your gratitude. Teachers and ministers who have blessed your life through recorded messages, as well as authors of spiritual teaching and devotional books are good candidates for your gratitude. Older Christian couples and individuals are often tools that the Lord uses to teach us spiritual lessons, to instruct and hone and polish us and to encourage us to go on and walk more intimately with our Lord. And they aren't always older than us, God can and often does use younger Christians, too. Sometimes those who do spiritual things for us are really obvious because they come and look us in the face and talk to us, others may be much more obscure, such as those who pray faithfully for us. Some of these may be people whom we have never even met. So whether there is a dear friend quietly supporting you through prayer or an individual who is actively teaching you, consider how you can best express your gratitude to them.
Encouragement is another very important area, without which we grow weary and exhausted in our labors and we begin to wonder 'what's the use?' All of us have people who encourage us and they usually do so in many different areas and way. One individual may encourage you as you seek to get your finances under control, another in the area of business, another in time management, planning and goal setting or in the raising and training of your children, while yet another encourages you and pushes you forward in your spiritual life. You will probably find that your encouragers tend to each stimulate you in one particular area though at times you will find a family or individual who shares your same vision and path in a whole variety of areas. Exactly how they encourage and push us forward can vary. Sometimes they will talk with us and praise our progress and say things like 'don't give up, keep going, it may be tough now, but you're on the right path'. At other times they will encourage us by coming along side at some crucial point when we are really hesitating to take the next step forward and they will give us a timely push to get us back on track and moving again. Not all encouragement is through words, often there is a family that we look up to and watch, their lives are an encouragement to us, we simply watch them, their struggles, progress and success and we are stimulated and encouraged to keep going and striving for those same goals. They support us and our vision and the excellence for which we are striving. So be creative as you seek out those who encourage you and start making a list of them. Add to it over time and you will be surprised how many there actually are! After you have identified several, start looking for ways to express your gratitude to them.
Last of all I would like to take a little time to consider those individuals who have indirectly influenced our lives. These often prove hard to detect for the simple reason that they work behind the scenes. I wonder if you have ever heard the saying 'behind every great man there is a great woman'. This is referring to husbands and wives but it can apply to any one of us. To reword that saying, do you see a person who is succeeding, someone who has brought an outstanding project to completion, look closely and you will undoubtedly find an unassuming individual(s) at work behind the scenes making the success of the lead person possible. You see, God created us to need each other, so regardless of the size of the accomplishment or the importance of the gift or benefit rendered to us, you and I will usually, if not always, be able to identify several individuals who filled a support role and made it possible. Consider just briefly the story at the beginning of this article. To a casual onlooker only one individual helped Peter put in the fence posts, however, you and I know better than that, for there is little doubt but that Daniel had work to do at home. As it turns out his younger brother mowed the lawn for him and his Mom who had several jobs that required his assistance had to do that work without him. So here we see an example of those who did the behind the scene things that made it possible for another, Daniel, to do the obvious work of putting in the new fence at his cousin's house. This is very important, because quite often behind the scenes people, who do all the footwork and planning to make the bigger, more obvious things go smoothly and work well are never noticed and never thanked, yet without them the important things would, quite literally, never get done. Begin observing people more closely and see if you can discern who some of the support people are around you. First look for those who are your support people and then start looking for those who support others that you know.
In desiring to become grateful people we must realize that there is a step by step process before us. We cannot expect to make the transition from ingratitude to gratitude or from little gratitude to much gratitude overnight, it is a process that will take us years. It is a virtue of the highest excellence to which every one of us should aspire, but in order to achieve it we must cultivate new eyes, eyes that see beyond the rush of life, beyond the next pressing responsibility or deadline that faces us, in other words, we have to look beyond our own busyness and retrain our eyes to see other people and what they do for us, we have to retrain our eyes to see life from God's perspective. It takes time to cultivate a grateful heart just like it takes time to change woodland into farmland. At first I had a hard time finding things for which to be truly grateful but over the weeks and months and yes, even years, it has become easier because I am learning to see life from a different perspective. In the Biblical account of Job we see a man who, in a terribly discouraging and sorrowful time in his life, complains bitterly about the devastating events that he believes have unjustly befallen him. A woeful book it would be except for the fact that God steps in just before the end and totally revolutionizes Job's perspective by asking four chapters of deep searching questions. To not one of them could Job answer affirmatively that he was the controlling power, the accomplisher or the maker of any of them. God was in control of Job's life, God is in control of our lives and just like Job needed his perspective changed we also need our perspective transformed so that gratitude can begin taking root in our hearts.
Begin today by writing one short note of gratitude to someone who has influenced your life.