The Apostle Paul tells us to “give thanks always.” This command sounds like an exaggeration, but I don’t think it is. Paul understood something important about our sinful nature ‒ giving thanks is the key to contentment. Likewise, when we stop practicing gratitude, we will grow increasingly discontent and irritable. We will inevitably begin comparing our circumstances to others’ rather than welcoming our circumstances as the place we are called to discover God’s presence with us.
Not long ago a stunning new car pulled up beside me at a stop light ‒ a marvel of engineering and design. I noted its aerodynamic shape evident even in the brilliant design of its door handles. What began as admiration, however, soon deteriorated as my gaze drifted to the stains and duct tape marking the interior of my ten-year-old Volkswagen.
“Compare and despair,” is a phrase we often use in our home. It’s our way of reminding the kids, and one another, that the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence, but it still needs to be mowed. Fixating on what others have, and what we do not, never leads to happiness. This temptation has only grown stronger with the advent of social media and smartphones. These devices bombard us with the constant invitation to compare the inglorious reality of our lives with the carefully curated images and posts of others. This helps explain why researchers have discovered a correlation between increased time on social media and higher rates of depression. Social media is a “compare and despair” engine.
Of course the dangers of comparing are not limited to our phones. When I was simply admiring the design of the other car next to me at the stoplight, I felt no discontent, but when I compared it to my own vehicle, things quickly went downhill. What is the solution? How do we get off the treadmill of discontent? How do we not constantly compare our circumstances to others’ when everywhere we look, every form of media we engage and virtually everything in our consumer society is designed to make us discontent?
I’ve found that nothing dissipates discontent better than practicing thankfulness – even when we do not feel like it. At the stoplight it meant thanking God for what I do have – a functioning car that serves my needs – and even expressing gratefulness for the gifted people who created the incredible machine parked next to me.
Rather than simply turning my eyes away from the car – which isn’t always possible when driving ‒ I chose to look at it differently. Not as a possession to desire, but as a creation to admire. In the process I found my discontent evaporating. In its place came a sense of wonder at the ingenuity and creativity of humans. Surely we have been created in the image of a creative God, I thought.
Yes, a car provoked me to think of God. That is the power of practicing thankfulness. It can transform greed into gratitude and worry into worship. It can even move our hearts from a desire to possess to a posture of praise.
Reflect: When do you feel most discontent or the temptation to compare and despair? What might you remove or limit in your life to foster a greater sense of contentment? (Maybe social media?) The next time you feel discontent, try to immediately shift your mind to thanks.
(Excerpt from Whole-Life Generosity Devotional, used with permission from GenerousChurch).