Training Your Soul to Be Thankful

Learning to be Thankful - Don't let the comparison game rob your life of gratitude.

by Shelly Esser

In the book, Streams in the Desert, Mrs. Charles Cowman tells the story “of a king who went into his garden one morning, and found everything withered and dying. He asked the oak that stood near the gate what the trouble was.

"He found it sick of life and determined to die because it was not tall and beautiful like the pine. The pine was all out of heart because it could not bear grapes, like the vine. The vine was going to throw its life away because it could not stand erect and have as fine fruit as the peach tree. The geranium was fretting because it was not tall and fragrant like the lilac; and so on all through the garden. Coming to a heart’s-ease he found its bright face lifted and cheery as ever.

"‘Well, heart’s-ease, I’m glad amidst all this discouragement, to find one brave little flower. You do not seem to be the least disheartened.’

"‘No, I am not of much account, but I thought that if you wanted an oak, or a pine, or a peach tree, or a lilac, you would have planted one; but as I knew you wanted a heart’s-ease, I am determined to be the best little heart’s-ease that I can.’”

I wonder how many of us can relate to this story. I know I can. Especially as women  -- like the trees and flowers in the garden -- we find it so easy to compare ourselves to others. Before we know it, we fall into the trap of comparing our gifts, our ministries and our churches with those around us, burying ourselves under the weight of always falling short. That kind of thinking has often left me frustrated, fretting like the poor little pine or peach tree because I’m trying to be someone I wasn’t created to be or have a life I wasn’t meant to have. 

How to be Like the Heart’s-ease

The little heart’s-ease discovered one of the secrets for rooting out comparison. He stood out among the rest in the garden because he learned how to be content -- he was happy with who he was and subsequently exhibited a willingness to be the best he could be in the place of his appointment.

 Playing the comparison game forces us to look longingly at all we don’t have instead of all we do have, resulting in a cancer of the perspective. It ultimately leads us into a preoccupation with ourselves. Before we realize it, self-centered attitudes like “Am I good enough?” “Pretty enough?” “Gifted enough?” creep up on us, robbing us of all that’s good in our life. It is here that the enemy snares us to keep us from appreciating all that God has given to us.

Another secret to defeating comparison is simply practicing thankfulness. If we’re to overcome comparison, we need to train our souls to be thankful. Have you ever noticed how your outlook in life instantly changes when you choose to be thankful? Thankfulness enables us to focus on all we do have in our lives instead of on what somebody else has in her life. An ungrateful spirit is filled with things we aren’t getting or don’t have, whereas the thankful heart embraces what God has given to us and done for us. It’s being able to look at how God is using me instead of focusing on why He’s using someone else in a given capacity.  

1 Thessalonians 5:16 tells us that we are to “give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” This includes giving thanks for how God has made us. God has something wonderful in mind for each of us that no one else can do quite as well. So we need to put our false perceptions aside and ask ourselves, “What is the best way -- given my gifts and abilities -- to fulfill the calling God has given to me? When I focus on these things, my heart is freed from the feeling of needing to be like someone else. God didn’t make us all alike, anyway. If we’re not careful, looking at how others do it can eventually crush us, leading us to be more discontent and ungrateful. It can also prevent us from doing things the way God wants us to do them. Paul very wisely said in 1 Cor. 12:4-6 that “there are different kinds of gifts...service...working.” We shouldn’t try to duplicate what others are doing. Realizing this truth has brought me tremendous freedom to be all I am in Christ -- to be me! Being thankful gives us the ability to love life, to love others and to love ourselves.

Being Aware—Your Choice

Author Luci Swindoll said, “The more we demand, grab for, complain about, worry over, the less we can value, cherish, savor, enjoy, and accept. To look for the many little blessings is a choice we can all make.” What good advice. A couple of years ago my sister gave me a “gratitude journal.” It has been an excellent tool in helping me to regularly reflect on all I have to be thankful for. Whenever I’m comparing myself to others and feeling sorry for myself, I start writing down all the things I have to be thankful for and almost instantaneously my perspective is transformed. A gratitude journal will change the way you see your life by helping to point your heart in the right direction, because the thing most often lacking in our lives is the awareness of how much we truly have.

Next time you’re tempted to compare yourself to someone else, remember that God wants to use you in the place of His calling -- a place that only you can fill in his garden of life. Then you will be able to shine contentedly like the little heart’s-ease, “No, I am not of much account, but I thought that if you wanted an oak, or a pine, or a peach tree, or a lilac, you would have planted one; but as I knew you wanted a heart’s-ease, I am determined to be the best little heart’s-ease that I can.”