Gratitude and the Risk of Joy

Danny Silk

One of the most fascinating stories about thankfulness in the Bible is Luke’s account of Jesus healing the ten lepers:

Jesus traveled on toward Jerusalem and passed through the border region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered one village, ten men approached him, but they kept their distance, for they were lepers. They shouted to him, “Mighty Lord, our wonderful Master! Won’t you have mercy on us and heal us?”

When Jesus stopped to look at them, he spoke these words: “Go to be examined by the Jewish priests.”

They set off, and they were healed while walking along the way. One of them, a foreigner from Samaria, when he discovered that he was completely healed, turned back to find Jesus, shouting out joyous praises and glorifying God. When he found Jesus, he fell down at his feet and thanked him over and over, saying to him, “You are the Messiah.” This man was a Samaritan.

“So where are the other nine?” Jesus asked. “Weren’t there ten who were healed? They all refused to return to give thanks and give glory to God except you, a foreigner from Samaria?”

Then Jesus said to the healed man lying at his feet, “Arise and go. It was your faith that brought you salvation and healing.” (Luke 17:11-19)

It would have been great if Jesus had offered us more explanation about why those nine healed lepers never came back to thank Him. Instead, He leaves us to chew on the uncomfortable truth that it’s possible to receive a life-changing miracle from Jesus—a miracle that you begged Him for—and not feel any need to express gratitude to Him. Jesus doesn’t do this to shame us, but to challenge us to seek wisdom as to how and why this lack of gratitude can happen, and what’s at stake when it does.

While there are many possible reasons to consider, here’s the one I want to challenge us to look at this Thanksgiving: When healing and restoration don’t lead us to risk, we miss out on enjoying the fullness of the restored life God has for us. 

In last week’s blog, I talked about the joy of having lost things restored in our lives. In my experience, there are two things that can block us from complete restoration after grief and loss. First, we can simply refuse to set out in search of restoration. We can accept the wound as a permanent feature of our identity and never get past it—and many, many people are limping through life as walking wounded because they made this choice. But the second thing we can do is seek and receive restoration up to a point, but never walk in it fully.

Here’s an illustration of how this works. When I was a young boy, I broke my ankle badly. The recovery process was long and painful—I was in a cast for what seemed like forever. But finally, my bones healed enough that the cast could come off. Almost immediately after the doctor removed my cast, however, I wished he would put it back on! It was excruciating walking on a newly healed ankle with weak muscles. While in the cast, I had adapted to it enough to walk and even play some sports without pain. But adaptation was not rehabilitation. Now I had to start the rehab process for real, and this required me to make some choices about how I would use my ankle again. Would I put myself in situations where I could hurt it again, or play it safe? 

Full restoration to being able to enjoy walking, running, and playing on my ankle required me to be fully vulnerable to re-injury. That’s how restoration works. You’re not fully restored until you recover joy, and you can’t recover joy without risking loss.

So many people allow the fear of loss to keep them from risking to recover joy. Imagine if, after recovering their lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son, the shepherd, woman, and father in Jesus’ Luke 15 parables didn’t throw a party, but instead began to live in fear, dreading that they would lose them again? What if the thoughts preoccupying those nine healed lepers as they walked back to their lives in society were, “What if I get sick and become an outcast again?” With the fear of loss dominating their outlook, how could they celebrate and be grateful?

Fear of loss is one big reason we don’t step fully into gratitude. Gratitude is a posture of seeing, receiving, and celebrating the good things we have. Fear diverts our attention from the presence of those good things to imagining the loss of good things. We all deal with fear after loss, but we either choose to be more present and grateful for the good things we have and do all we can to enjoy them fully, or we can allow fear to rob us from joy.

While fear of loss can keep us from gratitude, however, practicing gratitude can help us overcome that fear. Here are some key gratitude practices that will help you step into joy:

1. Do the vulnerability self-check.

In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown describes how she realized that whenever she was experiencing a fear of loss, a sense of unworthiness, or a scarcity mindset (which she describes as feeling “not enough” because of shame, comparison, and disengagement), that was a moment to practice gratitude. In these moments, she would first identify what she was feeling as “vulnerability,” then name what she was thankful for in that moment.

Try it for yourself. Next time you’re feeling anxious or a sense of impending doom, stop yourself and say, “Vulnerability! I am thankful for . . .” Name as many things as you can think of.

2. Take Communion.

In the 14th century, The Lord’s Supper came to be known as the Eucharist, which is Greek for “thanksgiving.” Communion is the original Thanksgiving meal! Something powerful happens every time we bring ourselves back to remembering the broken body and shed blood of Jesus on our behalf. In rehearsing His death and resurrection, we are literally declaring that no loss is final or able to keep us from the fullness of joy.

3. Thank God for the hard things.

While God is not the author of suffering, pain, and loss, He is absolutely the redeemer of suffering in our lives. Everyone who allows God to redeem their suffering comes to see how He uses it to shape their character and intimacy with Him, and as a result they are endlessly thankful for what He brought them through. But they get there by making the powerful choice to focus on the good in their circumstances, even when there was so much bad. The beauty is that taking time to find redemptive meaning in the hard things and thank God for it diffuses fear of going through hard things in the future.

This Thanksgiving, let’s refuse to let fear of loss hold us back from stepping fully into joy. Let’s be grateful for everything in our lives—even the hard things—and allow God to lead us into complete restoration!

Peace,

Danny

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