We are in the middle of “the holidays.” Thanksgiving is the time we celebrate how thankful we are, and during the Christmas season we are supposed to be full of joy. It is wonderful to take special seasons to focus on these things, but in reality, thankfulness and joy are not always evident in our lives, especially when we go beyond surface “happiness” and “I get what I want” to the deeper experience of true contentment. I have been thinking about how thanksgiving and joy are connected.
Our greatest joy comes not from accomplishments or accumulation, but from relationships. Look at a baby laughing at the loving face of a parent or crying when left alone. Knowing we are loved and giving love in return creates joy! This is true for us adults too! If we get separated from others or never connected, we have a huge unfilled space within that keeps us from true joy.
We learn joy as we are loved by others, but we have someone even greater who can make up for any love we lack or missed as a child. Augustine wrote in his spiritual autobiography, “Lord, you have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” (Confessions 1.1.1.) God fills that need for relationships directly and in giving us people in our lives to fill our need to be loved.
What happens when we lose our joy, either because of circumstances or because of being hurt in our relationships? One way we access this joy is to be grateful and praise God for all he does. When we have trials and don’t see the way out, we can pray with thanksgiving.
I did this recently. I had an experience where things did not go the way I wanted them to. I found it very easy to blame one person in particular. I was beyond upset! My husband encouraged me to thank God for the things I was most bothered about as well as the things that went well. As I did, I found my tension easing and my anger fading. I began to trust God to work in my circumstances and my relationships the way they were, not as I wanted them to be. God is acting whether we see it or not, and if we can trust in him, we will have joy and peace. It is hard to be mad about something or at someone if we are grateful!
If we fill out minds with gratitude, we will not just focus on ourselves, but see others needs. We can join God in spreading His love, both with our family and friends and with those in need. As I grow in gratitude, I have more joy. As I have both gratitude and joy, I am more able to reach out to others in love since I am overflowing myself. And as I do so, making more relationship connections, my joy and gratitude keep increasing. That’s the kind of circle I want to be in! That’s why I want to be part of the Community of Hope!