Years ago, there was a TV show on MTV called My Super Sweet 16. For those of you who have never seen the show, Google it sometime and look at what people think about the show and you will find reviews such as these:
"My Super Sweet 16: Lifestyles of the ungrateful."
"This MTv series is an embarrassment to civilized society."
"The ultimate in pointless television."
"Should be called 'Rich and Rude.'"
Why all the negative reviews? Well, the show is basically about teenage American girls who are turning 16 and celebrating this through what is known as the Sweet 16 celebration. The difference here is that these girls parents are filthy rich and get them anything they want. It is the ultimate in spoiled living. And in many episodes, after thousands and thousands of dollars spent the girls would still complain that it wasn't good enough. In other words, no matter what they get, many of them still seem to be really ungrateful and when they are grateful, it appears to be built on the complete satisfaction of their every desire. Mess up on one detail and these girls would collapse into a frenzy. To the common viewer the show may be entertaining but sad at the same time.
Nevertheless, there is a positive aspect to the show. My Super Sweet 16 reveals beyond a shadow of a doubt that pride and a sense of entitlement kills gratitude. Last year I preached a sermon titled "Why Am I So Bad at Being Thankful?" and suggested that many people never experience gratitude because they think too highly of themselves. Whenever you place yourself on a pedestal you inevitably feel as though you are entitled to the things you have in life and, as a result, take them for granted. But when we recognize that we are not "all that" we confront the reality that we are not entitled to anything. Then why are we blessed? It's not based on how awesome we are. It's based on how awesome God is. And once we realize that we can begin to experience true gratitude. Everything we have is an undeserved gift from a God who does not owe us anything.
However, pride and a sense of entitlement are not the only things guilty of gratitude homicide. There is another equally damaging attitude that completely snuffs gratitude out of a persons life. While on the one hand there are those who think too highly of themselves and take blessings for granted, on the other hand there are those who think so lowly of themselves that they also take blessings for granted. In fact, many times they never even notice their blessings. They spend their time constantly brooding over negative things and allowing their minds to entertain any pessimistic thought to the point that God could be pouring his blessing on them and they never notice it. And if they did notice it they would quickly twist it into something negative.
In many cases such people have a very low picture of themselves. In the most extreme cases they have little to no self worth. They see themselves as a waste of space, unimportant, and damaged. They say things to themselves they would never say to someone else. They self-deprecate and self-loathe. Its like their imagination has a disease. They aren't happy no matter whats going on. So while thinking too highly of yourself can lead to ingratitude, thinking too little of yourself leads to the same thing.
Right now I may be speaking to someone who feels as though they are not worth much. Maybe you have been betrayed, abandoned, abused, hurt, denied, or disappointed too many times. Maybe you had a husband who promised you happiness and now he's gone. Maybe you have done things in your life that fill you with inexpressible shame such that you have come to see yourself in the most negative condescending terms. And so long as you continue to believe this you will never be able to experience true gratitude. Pride kills gratitude, yes! But so does self-deprecation.
So what are we to do? How do we resolve this? For those who are proud and think too highly of themselves the solution comes from accepting what the Bible says - namely that we are not that cool and are entitled to nothing. But for those who view themselves in pessimistic, undervaluing, and hyper-modest ways the solution must be different because the problem is different. The problem is too low a view of yourself.
At this point, some well meaning folk may say something like this:
"Its the inside that matters not the outside."
"There's always something to be thankful for."
"It could be worse."
"You are beautiful no matter what they say."All of these are true statements, and I am glad they work for some people. But they don't work for everyone. In fact, I find them offensive because they are oversimplified responses to real struggles that basically communicates a "get over it" mentality. And for the person struggling with too low a view of themselves, such cliches tend to make them feel even worse about themselves.
In fact, I will go so far as saying that quoting Bible verses about how valuable a person is isn't helpful either. Why? It's not because the verses aren't powerful. Its because the way we use them is not powerful. We tend to quote Bible verses in situations like this as though they are intended to be motivational statements. As a result they come across as cute statements that are pleasant and "nice" but that have no bearing in the real world. If there is going to be an answer to this in scripture it cant come in the form of a cute saying. It has to be much bigger than that. Thankfully, every text in scripture that speaks positively of you and that calls you to put away your self-deprecation and embrace gratefulness is not some isolated fortune cookie statement. Each of those verses are born out of a much bigger picture, a narrative that impacts not simply how you feel right now, but the way in which you interpret life.
More on that next time...