Does Forced Gratitude Count?

When we knew we were going to have to move back to the states from Ireland, one of the most daunting tasks was figuring out where we would live. We had sold our house and used our savings to make the move overseas.

My husband brought up the idea of living in an apartment for a while, and my gut reaction was, “Grownups don’t live in apartments.”

Logically and intellectually, I know that is not true. Lots of “grownups” live in condos, townhouses, and apartments. But I was… spoiled. We had moved from a lovely home in Texas to a gorgeous home in Ireland, and now we had to figure out where to live. When we arrived back in Texas, the only homes we could afford needed a TON of work… more than we had the skills or funds to handle.

We looked at one fixer-upper after another until the stress was just a bit too much. It felt like a huge decision to make in a very short period of time. So we decided to take a breath. A beat. And just wait.

We found a townhouse that is extremely conveniently located. It is far from fancy, but it is just fine. And still, for the first few weeks of our time here, a recurring thought crossed my mind and passed my lips: “I hate this place.”

Over and over again, I spoke the words, “I hate this place.” Until one day, I felt convicted by the Holy Spirit. My rotten attitude was getting me nowhere; in fact, it was making me more unhappy.

So I decided that every time that thought popped into my head, I needed to respond with something I was grateful for about where we lived. Turns out, I have a lot for which to be thankful:

  • I’m thankful I have a roof over my head.
  • I’m thankful we have air conditioning.
  • I’m thankful we’re close to work and school and church.
  • I’m thankful I have a bed to sleep in.

It may sound like a silly exercise, but the forced recognition of gratitude helped change my outlook. I still don’t love where we live, and I look forward to moving, but I am thankful for God’s provision.

So I wonder about Daniel (from the Old Testament) and how he maintained his spirit of gratitude in circumstances far worse than I can imagine. I wonder if he ever said, “I hate this place.” Daniel had been taken captive and forced into the service of a pagan king who was egocentric at best and sadistic at worst.

Even in captivity, Daniel had an air of peace about him, and I think that is because he never forgot who God was/is. When faced with the impossible task of reading the king’s mind and deciphering a dream without being told what the dream was, Daniel did what we should all do first: He prayed, and he asked his friends to pray.

Then, when God answered his prayer by giving him a revelation into the meaning of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, he didn’t doubt or wonder if the revelation was really from God. He trusted that God was with him and had answered his prayer. Before he rushed off to answer the king, he stopped to recognize God’s power and the blessing of an answer—an answer that prevented Daniel and his friends (and many other people) from being killed. He gave thanks. He acknowledged that it was God who provided the clarity and revelation—not his own wisdom.

Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. 20 Daniel answered and said:

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
    to whom belong wisdom and might.
21 He changes times and seasons;
    he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to those who have understanding;
22 he reveals deep and hidden things;
    he knows what is in the darkness,
    and the light dwells with him.
23 To you, O God of my fathers,
    I give thanks and praise,
for you have given me wisdom and might,
    and have now made known to me what we asked of you,
    for you have made known to us the king’s matter.”

—Daniel 2:19–23 (ESV)

Later, when he revealed to Nebuchadnezzar the meaning of his dream—prophesying the coming of Christ—he never took credit for the miraculous understanding. He pointed back to God’s power with every breath.

The discomfort and inconveniences I face pale in comparison to those Daniel dealt with in captivity, and yet, he modeled the kind of peace I long to experience—the kind of peace that comes from remembering who God is and being grateful and content in Him, no matter the circumstances.

When our children are little, we remind them to say thank you. We teach them to show gratitude for the littlest things. The hope, of course, is that gratitude will eventually become a heartfelt and automatic response.

I want experience the kind of peace and gratitude Daniel demonstrated. I want to trust that God is in control and that He will continue to provide for our needs. And if that means I have to remind myself to say thank you from time to time, until I feel thankful, so be it.

Forced gratitude isn’t ideal, but it can be a tool that puts life back into proper perspective. So, yeah, I think it counts. For me, it definitely makes a difference.