A Heart of Gratitude
By Krystal Donaldson | August 29, 2017
by Krystal Donaldson
It is well known that a constant attitude of complaining has deleterious consequences on our bodies and quality of life. Yet, it seems so natural to complain to anyone willing to listen. Most individuals will justify and reinforce our frustration giving no positive perspective. In many societies, it is very challenging to cultivate a heart of gratitude. However, in my experience, I find it is very essential to do so. One of my pastors often said: “You don’t know what is in a sponge until you squeeze it.” It is when we are squeezed that our true character is on full display. It is a similar concept to Jesus’ chastising of the Pharisees and Scribes regarding their character, calling them whitewashed tombs that are beautiful on the outside but inside are filled with dead men’s bones (Matthew 23:25-28).
Dental school can certainly be a breeding ground for stress and frustration that gives way to a gathering of students just complaining and eagerly anticipating the day of graduation. We may tend to forget the gratitude we had, jumping for joy and probably doing back flips when we received the wonderful news that we got into dental school! Yet, despite this natural proclivity to complain which seems to bond us together, I’ve also seen the destruction. Complaining accomplishes nothing—it just adds to our stress. Despite our plight, however, I am positive there are other stressors we will face in life. Therefore, very early on, I made a conscious effort to be more optimistic and listen to my schoolmates’ frustrations. However, I would not “add fuel to the fire,” rather I would interject at least one positive perspective, if feasible.
When I migrated from Jamaica at 14 years old, my extended family threw a surprise going away party for me. It was very moving. They all presented me a plaque, and on the front was an eagle with the inscription: “Your Attitude almost always determines your Altitude in life.” This is something I have hung right above my desk in my room throughout my scholastic years. It has served as a strong reminder for maintaining a heart of gratitude and optimism despite unpleasant situations that I may face.
In my second year of dental school I ended up in a housing situation where, instead of splitting rent by three, I was paying all the housing expenses because I could not find suitable roommates. I felt the Lord leading me to look specifically for Christian female roommates, but weeks and months went by and I had no takers. Many individuals loved the house, but for whatever reason things were just not working out for me. At my lowest point, feeling all my financial constraints, I expressed my frustrations and complained to the Lord at length. Perplexed, I thought of Mother Teresa’s quote: “I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.”
I started looking for that saying: “God won’t give us more than we can handle” which I thought was Scripture, only to find out it didn’t exist! Instead, I came across an interesting article which lead me to 2 Corinthians 1:8 where Paul stated, “...we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life” (NKJV). It was at that point I heard the song on my YouTube playlist: “I will lift up mine eyes to the hills…” from Psalm 121. In that moment, in the midst of my tears, I understood that it is when you are in a valley that you can look up to the hills. I then became appreciative of the valley I was in and remembered that through my weakness the Lord’s strength is magnified (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Just because I had this revelation didn’t mean that God came through the next day. No, I still waited months before the Lord would bless me with the Christian roommates I desired. But when He did, there was a form of gratitude I would not have had otherwise. In the past, little nuances of roommates would sometimes cause me to complain. But after going without roommates for an entire year, there was hardly anything my roommates could do that would cause me to complain.
I believe praising the Lord and being grateful in the midst of trials is such a testament to others, and I am certain it moves the Lord’s heart, shaming the enemy. I was squeezed in my housing crisis, so the Lord showed me my true character and we worked on it together. Having a heart of gratitude is not something where we “fake it until we make it.” We need to be authentic with the Lord in where we are; if we are in the phase of being upset, it is alright to let Him know. It is from my low place of being real with the Lord that I then let go and allowed Him to give me a grateful heart, despite the fact that I didn’t understand why things were taking so long. A heart of gratitude is still something I have to intentionally make the effort to walk in as opposed to complaining. Today, when I find myself in challenging situations, instead of immediately complaining—a natural reaction—I stop to think about at least one thing for which I could be thankful for, and, trust me, there is always something!
For Paul reminded us: “Rejoice always and delight in your faith; be unceasing and persistent in prayer; in every situation [no matter what the circumstances] be thankful and continually give thanks to God; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench [subdue, or be unresponsive to the working and guidance of] the [Holy] Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19, AMP).
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