I’ve written a lot about the importance of gratitude and how it can completely change your perspective on life. I think it’s critical to repeatedly shift your focus off of your complaints and understand how much you truly have to be thankful for. But recently, I’ve been unsettled by what I can only describe as a misuse of gratitude that I’ve seen around me, particularly in women, and even more specifically in Christian women.
This unsettling began when an acquaintance was speaking about her husband’s recent lay-off and what it meant for their family. She was understandably confused and anxious and yet, even as she asked for our prayers she continually downplayed the situation by minimizing her troubles in light of the burdens “others” in the world are experiencing.
I then began to notice how often the women in my Facebook groups started their prayer requests with apologies. As in, “I know this doesn’t compare to what some of you are going through, but…” Or, “This might sound silly, but…” And, “I know this isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but…”
What is it we’re doing here? When we, as women, are nervous or anxious or afraid, why do we so often downplay it? This is what I mean by a misuse of gratitude. We’re trying to count our blessings through denying or ignoring our problems. When we ask for prayers we include an apology and then reassure everyone that we know full well our issues don’t technically qualify as problems.
When Paul speaks of our “light and momentary troubles” in 2 Corinthians 4:17 he isn’t comparing his experiences to those of other people who are worse off than him. That kind of thinking amounts to nothing more than the cliched “there but for the grace of God go I,” which, let’s admit it, can be an incredibly condescending way to look at those less fortunate than you. Think of Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Our gratitude before God will always be misguided if we are comparing ourselves to others. In order for our gratitude to be sincere, it must be in relation to God alone. Paul calls our troubles “light and momentary” (2 Cor. 4:17) not in view of the problems of other people but in view of God’s glory and power. In that same verse Paul says those very troubles are “acheiving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”
So even though I want to be thankful to God and all that He has given me, I also know that He never tells me to go away and stop troubling Him with my petty problems. It’s true that there will always be people in the world whose problems are bigger than mine but God will never be too busy to handle my problems, too.
Many times in the Bible we’re told to bring our problems and our worries to the Lord. Jesus says, “Come to me you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). In light of this, minimizing our problems doesn’t equate to gratitude, instead it represents a lost opportunity to receive God’s comfort and, ultimately, His presence. In trying so hard to please God with a correct attitude, we risk losing the very intimacy we could have had with Him if we’d only been more honest about our feelings. We also risk losing the fellowship and intercession of others when we pretend that our burden isn’t so bad. The Bible tells us to “bear each other’s burdens” not to bear the big ones and ignore the comparatively little.
So if there’s something on your mind today that you’ve been downplaying, maybe it’s time to admit to yourself that it’s bothering you. God has not promised us an easy or safe life but He has promised us that He’ll go with us through it all if we’ll let Him. He’s not going to wipe away this world in favour of a new one. Instead, He is redeeming all things. And so all of this, my problems and yours and even the problems of those “other people” all have meaning within the Kingdom of God.