We’ve all been there at least once in our lives—and maybe it even happened to you the week before last: the center of attention, all eyes watching as you rip paper off a box containing a carefully selected gift. Children are crowded at your feet; adults are on pins and needles to see your reaction. And then, the moment you hoped wouldn’t come is here: the gift doesn’t meet your expectations.
In a matter of seconds, you have some decisions to make:
- Will you say “thank you” and move on?
- Will you say “thank you,” yet express your disappointment?
- Or, will you complain about the gift, highlighting its negative features?
If you were playing “Dirty Santa” (aka “White Elephant” in the North), in which disgusted reactions are prized and applauded, you’d probably choose #3. If you were me, you’d choose the first. And, believe it or not, if you were my sweet Grandmama, you’d probably choose the second.
With a grin on your face and a twinkle in your eye, just like in the picture above, you’d thank the gift-giver, and would sound very genuine. But invariably, as you placed your gift back in its box, someone wouldn’t be able to resist tempting you with one of the family’s longest running jokes; they’d ask what was wrong with the gift, and you’d begin with, “Wellll…” (but it’d sound more like “Waaaiiilll” since you were born and raised in a tiny Mississippi town in the 1920’s).
You then might admit that it wasn’t the exact shade of blue that you asked for, or it was smaller than advertised, but that it really was ok with you. My aunt would’ve taken you to the store the following week to make an exchange, and history would repeat itself the next Christmas.
Knowing the high expectations my grandmother placed on gifts, I was usually anxious when selecting her present. The funny thing was, though, she always seemed to like what I—and her other grandchildren—got for her. She’d thank us profusely, rave about how pretty the new gift was, and use or display it proudly afterwards. The gifts she’d return or exchange? Those were the ones from my mom and aunt.
After pondering this phenomenon for years, I’ve got two theories:
First of all, my sisters, cousins, and I typically chose items for my grandmother that we thought she’d like, but we didn’t ask her what she wanted; she knew she’d get something from us, but our gifts were just a nice surprise. My mom and aunt, on the other hand, would ask what she wanted and tried to match the item to a tee—and keep in mind, this is before you could send someone a link from Amazon. If the requested gift didn’t meet the exact specifications, she wasn’t shy about politely, and even humorously, exchanging it for what she really wanted. To her, the unmet expectations necessitated an exchange.
Secondly, although my grandmother was very close to her five grandchildren, she was naturally closer to her daughters, and sometimes it’s easier to be completely transparent with those in our inmost circle. We trust that they can “handle” our honest thoughts and that they’ll love us even when we don’t say what they want to hear.
These two suppositions have me thinking: Could this be why we act the same way with God?
Granted, we don’t open a box in front of Him and tell Him we thought the purse would have one strap instead of two, but have you ever thanked Him for something and continued with “but…” or “next time could You…”?
We might feel so very close to Him—perhaps as close as a mother feels to her grown daughter—that when our expectations aren’t met, we have no problem verbalizing our “thanks,” quickly proceeding to list what we’d rather have.
There’s no problem in voicing our desires to the Lord, but there is a problem with being discontent with what He’s graciously given us. And there’s a worse problem in refusing to acknowledge these feelings since the first step to change is recognition. David notes in Psalm 32:3 that when he was silent about his sin, his “bones waxed old,” but in verse 5, he declares that after acknowledging his sin, God forgave him. This truth is echoed in 1 John 1:9:
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
So, while someone else may not be able to discern when our “thanks” is genuine, with God, our Creator, there’s no hiding an ungrateful heart. It’s safe to confess this though, as we just read. Plus, He knows exactly what we’re thinking and feeling anyway, and He can spot “lip service” a mile away according to Isaiah 29:13:
“[Therefore] the Lord said, ‘Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me…”
How often do we praise God with our words but not with our hearts?
If you’re like me, it might be more often than you’d like. So if we notice that we’re praising God or thanking Him for something, but our hearts aren’t truly in it, let’s come before Him boldly to receive mercy (Hebrews 4:16). Let’s take our honest thoughts and feelings of disappointment to Him and ask Him to help us make Psalm 9:1 a reality:
“I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all thy marvellous works.”
Cultivating a heart of gratitude, coupled with accepting what was given to me with open hands, began popping up exactly one year ago. The morning after my birthday last January, I met some of my friends at our favorite breakfast place, the one we’d gone to hundreds of times throughout the previous decade. That morning, our server was one of my former classmates. I ordered a raspberry brioche, which is basically a fancy doughnut, and after daydreaming of slicing the thick shell sprinkled with crystallized sugar to reach the gooey raspberry goodness in the middle, I was disappointed to see him return to our table without it. As he placed a blueberry muffin in front of me—my previous “usual” order—I wondered if I had ordered the wrong thing. Like the hypothetical situation above, I had a choice to make:
- I could practice what I was learning, being thankful for what I was given
- I could eat what I was given while complaining, audibly or internally
- Or, I could politely send it back and ask for what I really wanted. After all, I knew the server by name; it’d be easy to do.
Perhaps in another season of life, I’ll be learning a different lesson and would make a different choice, but at that time, under my breath, I said to my best friend that I was accepting what I’d been given and was going to be thankful for it. And I really did enjoy that blueberry muffin, surrounded by people whose company I relished in, celebrating another year of the life God has given me.
I share this story neither to toot my own horn, nor to give my stance on sending food back at a restaurant; instead, I hope to show that any situation can be an opportunity for God to let us practice larger life lessons. Cultivating a grateful heart starts small, but little by little, it can become a way of life.
This week, I encourage you to make the choice to be grateful for and content with what you have, as Hebrews 13:5 instructs. You don’t have to pretend that everything in your life is going great; you don’t have to hide your grief. But I bet you can identify one hundred gifts that you’ve already been given and begin to steward them with open hands and a grateful heart.
Thank you so much for reading. Would you share TEN of your one hundred gifts in the comments below? I’d love for us to fill that section with GRATITUDE❤️
Stay tuned next week for the “Receiving Blessings” finale: “Receiving with Thanksgiving,” and check out this video of me guest starring on “Not American Food” making my sweet Grandmama’s family favorite Christmas “cookies” if you want an inside glimpse of how she prepped for Christmas Eve — before inspecting her presents! 😉