When I started the Thankful Series two weeks ago, I wrote about our human need for someone to be thankful to! We all realize that there are times when things go well, when we’re blessed so much more than we deserve, that we simply need someone to thank. It’s a glad thing for people of faith, for believers, that we can be thankful to God!
As I’ve continued to focus on Gratitude and Thankfulness, I find stages or qualities of Thankfulness in myself. I’m talking about:
• Circumstantial Thankfulness – Thanks for the blessings!
• Comparative Thankfulness – Well, I guess it could be worse!
• Thankfulness In All Things – In Everything Give Thanks
• Whole Life Thankfulness – I’m Thankful for my life!
It’s not necessarily a linear progression from one kind of Thankfulness to the other. It can be parts of all of them, or it can be one kind for one situation and another kind for another. And it can be most or all of these at the same time for me.
In Fact, as I’ve been writing this post, I’ve been processing through so many different levels of Thankfulness!
Comparative Thankfulness – Well, I guess it could be worse!
You’re right! Comparative Thankfulness is when I see my blessings in comparison to the presently observable blessings that someone else is or isn’t experiencing. Comparative Thankfulness has its potential pitfalls, but let’s look at some ways in which it can help us more greatly appreciate what we have and also develop compassion for others who are less fortunate.
I remember a sort of proverb I heard several times back in a previous century. Do you remember this one? “I complained because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” I know, right? Or the classic, “There but for the Grace of God go I!” Those sayings can be trite and shallow, but there is a truth there.
Each week when I go to the Infusion Room at St Charles Cancer Center, I’m reminded that compared to other people who are doing Chemo, I have it pretty easy. I haven’t even lost my hair. Actually I should say, “I haven’t lost what’s left of my hair after 78 years on the planet!”
When I go in for my treatment, I see all the people who are receiving regular Chemo sitting in the chairs with their books and tablets and wires and tubes. Then I go to the “Velcade” chairs in the back and the nurse comes to do all my vitals and the interview questions. Then I wait while they mix my infusion that will be injected by needle under my skin and be absorbed by my body over the next week while I take my other two Chemo meds in pill form each day.
And I do the Comparative Thankfulness mental dance. “Oh, I’m thankful that I don’t have to do that!” and on the other side of the equation, “Oh, but I’m going to be doing this for the rest of my life if it works, and something else if it doesn’t.” Because my cancer doesn’t get cured, it gets treated and managed. I do this comparison stuff a lot. Actually a bit more than I like to admit!
There are some possible good “side effects” to Comparative Thankfulness (we learn a lot about side effects in cancer treatment): It can help to develop awareness that we aren’t the only people dealing with hard stuff. And many of them don’t have the faith resources we have to deal with the hard stuff.
Comparative Thankfulness can help us develop compassion, understanding, and empathy. It can help us learn to cut people some slack when they don’t handle terrible things terribly well.
Comparative Thankfulness can help us realize that we actually have a lot to be thankful for. In our gratitude for our blessings, compassion grows and we begin to find ways to graciously share our blessings with others who have less, even if our own blessings don’t seem to be totally overflowing at the time. If it goes the good way – I develop empathy and want to help others.
But there is this one negative side effect of Comparative Thankfulness that might show up. Let’s hope not, but it might! It’s when we see others whose Comparative Blessing Level is way below ours and we think, “I wonder what they did wrong that things are that bad for them!” and the accompanying thought, “I must be a really good person to since that didn’t happen to me!” We can begin to feel prideful or superior to the other less-fortunate person.
It’s like when Jesus disciples encountered a blind man and the disciples asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents for him to suffer this blindness?”
1 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. 2 “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” 3 “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. (John 9:1-3 NLT)
During the years my family and I lived in Jamaica, two years in the rural market town of Linstead and five years in Kingston, the capital city, we lived without many of the comforts and conveniences we would have taken for granted if we’d been living a “normal life” back in the US. Sometimes we’d focus on the frustrations of sacrifice and inconvenience. But it only required going outside our gate onto the street to put things in perspective. The physical, practical needs of others were obvious and ever-present. Women came to our gate begging for food or for money to feed their children. Ragged children came to the car window at every downtown intersection. Beggars, often crippled or blind, sat by the door of the bank, the post office, and the supermarket.
We were always quickly reminded that if instead of comparing our minor sacrifices and inconveniences to the comfort and ease we’d be experiencing in the far-off mythical land of “back home in the USA”, we’d simply look around at the needs of others in the community around us, our gratitude attitude quickly changed! We were thankful for the blessings we had instead of focusing on the things we lacked. And we realized that even in our comparative lack (if we looked north), we had an abundance that we could share with those around us.
The needs around us were obvious and overwhelming. We soon learned, and were often reminded, that we couldn’t do it all, but we could do something.
So while comparing ourselves with others has a few pitfalls to watch out for, it can help us appreciate more the things we do have, develop empathy and compassion for others who are less fortunate, and realize that even our comparative lack can also be comparative abundance that we can graciously share.
So here’s my point with these thoughts on Comparative Thankfulness: It’s not the ultimate goal of Gratitude. And we’re going to look at two more kinds (Levels, Qualities) of Thankfulness in this series: Thankfulness in all things, and Thankfulness for my Life. And I’m still convinced that these are not something we move through in linear progression and that there are better and worse kinds of Gratitude. In my experience, I find myself moving through the spectrum of Thankfulness pretty frequently. But I do want to grow in Gratitude so I spend more and more time simply being Thankful for my Life! I’m really looking forward to sharing the next two blog posts with you. I think you’ll find some joy in “Thankfulness in all things” and “Whole life thankfulness.”
As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.