I’m Brittany! I’m an INFJ and Enneagram Type 1. I am a Ragamuffin. I’m a sucker for Young Adult fiction, clever lyrics, and Friday Night Lights. Lime is my all-time favorite flavor. I live in Indianapolis with my husband and our son, where I spend my days as a nurse practitioner in the inner-city and daydream about a future in Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (toilets!). God brought Laci and me together during our college years at Taylor, where we lived on the same floor and spent many a late night and polar pop run together. Our friendship has grown even more since then!
I’m here to talk about thankfulness. But first, there’s some hard stuff to work through, because, well, I am not the most thankful person by nature. I had to come to grips with a big fat secret that was getting in the way of my ability to be thankful for anything: pride.
Let’s start with the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector from 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.’”
The embarrassing truth that I recently realized is that I am the Pharisee! I stand before God and unashamedly pray, “God, thank you that I am so much better than everyone else. I’ve done so many great things for you!”
The thing is, I’ve spent my whole life following the rules and doing what’s right. That’s not inherently a bad thing, until my identity becomes “rule follower” instead of “wretched, but beloved and redeemed.” When I have the gall to think that I have been so good of my own accord and that I have succeeded on my own, my pride swallows me right up. The truth, of course, is that God has enabled me to be obedient through the Holy Spirit at work within me, nudging me, whispering, “This is the way. Walk in it.” But when I am pompous, vain, self-righteous, and full of myself, I cannot be full of God’s love or in need of his Grace. I am robbing myself of the joy and freedom that comes with acknowledging that God is in control.
Further, when I am able to see my self-righteousness for what it is and how it destroys me, I realize that I have become my own savior and therefore I no longer stand in need of the ACTUAL Savior. I disgrace his love and sacrifice with indignation and my holier-than-thou mentality, again deceiving myself that I am the one who has accomplished anything at all. In short, I am absolutely ungrateful for Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection, and I declare that His sacrifice wasn’t even necessary for me–as if I could have saved myself!
One of the most detrimental implications is that, like the Pharisee, when I am self-righteous, my gratitude cannot be full or genuine; it is two-faced. In my experience, true gratitude requires humility, because it is only when we are empty of our conceit that we are able to acknowledge what someone else has done for us. When we thank God, we are acknowledging that what we have, what we do, the people we love, and life itself are all gifts from Him; we could not have achieved or acquired them on our own because we are not the ones in control. I must honestly admit that I did not actually understand this until a few years ago, and the process of living into this understanding will probably never end. Pride is one of my “things,” even though, like the Pharisee, I tried to tell myself for a long time that it wasn’t. But God is gracious, and I can genuinely thank God for saving me from myself. Thanks be to God! that I don’t have to live in the lonely and falsely inflated place that pride sent me to, like a kid with his nose in the corner. Thanks be to God! that he is Sovereign and all-knowing, and that his gifts are truly perfect—not the junk I think is best for me (shout out to the 1993 Rich Mullins hit “Hold Me Jesus”). Thanks be to God! that I can repent of my pride, for He is the God of Second Chances, and 979th chances too.
Since December of 2011, when I first discovered that pride and the desire for control was destroying me, I have found many, many things to be thankful for, perhaps the greatest of which is my son. I have also found that in learning and striving to be a thankful person, a natural response to my gratitude is actually prayer—more like that of the tax collector than the Pharisee. Let me give you an example.
My most thankful day ever was my son’s first birthday. That probably sounds like a weird thing to say, but I was overflowing with emotion and gratitude because God’s work was so evident. At first, I felt the old ways of sinful pride creep into me, in that crafty way Satan has of making everything seem not-so-bad. I wanted to pat myself on the back for what I had accomplished; breastfeeding and pumping for a whole year while working full-time were at the top of the list (and yes, there was a list, as only other self-righteous people will know). But then I thought about what it took to accomplish those things. I thought about the strength God had given me every day when I was sleep-deprived and overwhelmed, when all I could do was roll out of bed and say, “Lord, I give this day to you.” I thought about the nights that seemed so, so lonely and the songs and scriptures that had helped me survive them. I remembered the people, texts, phone calls, and advice that had come at just the right times. I thought about the job I have and the understanding bosses I have and the time I was given to pump every day. The provisions of God were overwhelming!
And then, I thought about what life would be like if I were raising my son in India, Somalia, or Nicaragua. I started to pray for the women who don’t even name their children until their first birthdays (or later) because infant mortality rates are so high. I prayed for the women who hide their babies at night from the bombs that destroy their homes and their lives, while my baby sleeps peacefully in a crib in silence. I prayed for the women I know who want children but remain childless and those who have lost babies, who mourn and weep and cry out to God. And my prideful musings changed to brokenness, humility, and true thankfulness to God for the gift of a year with my son, whom I love desperately. I know that God loves him more than I ever will, and he also loves those women and those babies. And I don’t know why I am here while they’re there, but I’m going to be sure that every time I thank God for what he’s given me, I pray for them, too.
With practice, my prayers of thanksgiving and then petition for others have become inextricably integrated, and I’ve found that I really, really enjoy it. Being thankful is just so much better than being proud–especially since pride is a lie, an illusion of control. I’m so thankful that God loved me enough to show me that. I’m even more thankful that He loves me enough to never stop showing me that, no matter how many times I forget.