Gratitude When Gratefulness Won't Come

This time of year, you don’t have to walk too far into a store to find a plaque or pillow for sale with one of these words on it:





I can’t argue with the fact that these are good words. Our Bibles contain English translations of Hebrew and Greek words for each of these concepts and other related words.

Yet I have a visceral reaction when I see a pillow or plaque with a call to gratitude painted across it. When I’m honest, I kind of want to punch the pillow of gratefulness into oblivion. When I’m honest, those signs calling me to thanksgiving bring up a wellspring of irritation from deep inside of me. I’m usually tempted to push that irritation back down inside with positivity: “Count your blessings, Heidi!” “#blessed” and “thankfulgratefulblessed!” roll off my tongue and knock on my heart to try to convince myself of where I’d like to be.

But when I sit with my irritation for just a second, rather than pushing it back down, I recognize that I want to take a permanent marker and write a note on every single sign in every single store I’ve ever walked into:

“What if gratefulness is hard?”

Gratefulness is both an unconscious feeling and a conscious emotion. It is a good gift from God. It feels warm and cozy. I think we’re tempted to manufacture it by bringing more warm and cozy into our lives, like pillows and plaques. And while reminders of all the warm and cozy can be good, we will always also see the hard things of life in a broken world pressing in. Those realities bring their own unconscious feelings or conscious emotions as well. God, in His kindness, invites us to lay both before Him.

God invites us to gratitude when gratefulness won’t come

In the middle of life, where we live, feelings come and go, trouble and blessings come and go. Gratitude isn’t a temporary feeling but the spiritual practice of recognizing that God is real and active every day in the middle. In the Bible and in life today, gratitude and the act of bringing thanksgiving are often surrounded just as much by the difficult things of life—cancer, COVID, national and international turmoil, injustice—as by the good gifts we receive from God. Read Isaiah 51; Philippians 4; or Hebrews 12 to see good evidence of this.

Biblical gratitude is best defined as the practice of presenting ourselves to God and honoring Him with both where He has been in the feel-good things of our life as well as the yuck. This gratitude practice brings a stronger sense of God’s presence into our lives, rather than that momentary sense of gratefulness. This gives our mind, our heart, and our body a foundation to stand on that feels sturdy—is sturdy—when the world is rocky.

Practicing gratitude with Psalm 118

If you are having a hard time “feeling” grateful, it’s okay, because gratitude doesn’t need your feelings and God doesn’t judge you by your feelings but by Christ Jesus’ mercy, love, and sacrifice. Psalm 118 is a perfect place to turn to for practicing gratitude, no matter how grateful or ungrateful, thankful or unthankful, we feel. It starts and ends with a chorus of thankfulness,

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good;
    for His steadfast love endures forever!

And in the middle, we find enemies pouncing, people hating, discipline, and rejection—but also strength, hope, and life:

Out of my distress I called on the LORD;
    the LORD answered me and set me free. (v. 5)

I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
    but the LORD helped me. (v. 13)

I shall not die, but I shall live,
    and recount the deeds of the LORD. (v. 17)

What middle would you put into your psalm for God? What trouble and brokenness do you see inside of you, around you? Where do you see God’s presence in the middle of all that mess?

Couple the answers to those questions with this:

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good;
    for His steadfast love endures forever!

Now you’ve found the middle: recognizing God, being thankful to God in all of it—honest, broken, mundane, and hurting, alongside warm and cozy and cared for.

This is the practice of gratitude: thanking God for what He’s doing in the middle.

Use a Bible that helps you dive deep for gratefulness during the beginning, the middle, the end and all days in between.

Grab the Portals of Prayer Devotional Bible

Picture of Heidi Goehmann
Written by

Heidi Goehmann

Heidi is a licensed clinical social worker and mental health provider, deaconess, writer, speaker, wife, mom, and advocate. She can always be found at, advocating and providing resources for mental health and genuine relationship. Heidi loves her family, sticky notes, Jesus, adventure, Star Wars, Star Trek, and new ideas . . . not necessarily in that order.

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