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Thankful vs Grateful. Is There a Difference?

Thankful vs grateful. These words are interchangeable—like thankful, grateful, blessed, right? I used to think so—until we lived in our garage for three years.
We made the decision to move to my husband’s hometown with high hopes of building our forever home. The process included converting a 1000 square foot garage into our temporary home.
That was what was supposed to happen and then life handed us what we felt like was one disappointment after another.
As it says in the first part of Proverbs 13:12,“hope deferred makes the heart sick.”
Our hearts were sick over the disappointments.
Maybe you can relate.
You’ve been in a similar place or you are there right now.
Life is not at all like you thought it was going to be and to be honest, it feels like you have lost hope. Finding things to be thankful for or grateful for seems out of reach
If you feel like you’re hopeless, I’ve been there more than once. I can tell you from experience, God doesn’t place hope in our hearts to just let it waste away.

Thankful vs grateful. These words are synonyms, right? What do you think? I used to think so—but through unexpected circumstances, I changed my mind. #thankfulvsgrateful

Thankful vs Grateful. Is there a difference?

As I reflect upon that time in our lives, it turns out, our feelings of hopelessness revealed a surprisingly different purpose in God’s plans for us.
Although we were thankful for a place to live, heat, running water and so many simple things, it was through God’s extravagant love that our difficult circumstances were the very place where a deeper meaning of gratitude was formed in us.
It was in this place that I began to understand more fully that thankful is the beginning of grateful. I’ll use a common analogy to help describe what I mean.

Thankful vs Grateful – The Half Glass Analogy

A mom friend recently shared how she was feeling like she was a “glass half empty” in her life. I’d like to continue with that Half Glass Analogy in how God has  awakened a new perspective.
If you take a glass and fill it halfway with water, you can look at it with two different perspectives—at least that is what we are used to, right?
  1. The glass is half full.
  2. The glass is half empty.
A thankful perspective could say, “I’m thankful, my glass is half full.”
Or a frustrated perspective could say, “I’m frustrated because my glass is half empty.”
What if…there’s a third option?
This exact analogy is where God has surprised me. My understanding of thankful vs grateful has been refined.
How often do we miss gratefulness because we don’t see or recognize it?
Maybe the glass analogy isn’t about what’s in the glass at all—rather it’s that you have a glass.

Gratitude Changed Me

During our three years we lived in our garage, there was a moment when I felt completely hopeless.
I felt like I was being stripped of several things in my life—physical comfort, friendships, and emotional support.
History holds a handful of times in my life when I’ve felt those discouraging feelings and in the past the only thing that helped me was an actual change in my circumstance. But this time, it wasn’t my circumstances that changed. It was something else.
Almost naturally…even automatically, it was gratitude that changed me. I wrote more about it in how to overcome when you feel hopeless.
Because gratitude changed me, I’m offering up to you, The Gratitude Challenge. It is where I’ll be sharing with you some practical ways to cultivating a habit that fosters a deeper sense of gratitude. As a result you too will find that you can persevere in all circumstances.
So here’s the first part that I’ll offer in The Gratitude Challenge. Keep in mind that it’s a challenge—and also an encouragement to you.
To be honest, if you’re having a hard time finding things to be grateful for—then there’s something else that is going on in your heart.I don’t know what that is…but I can tell you that the day I took my walk—when I felt hopeless—gratitude revealed in my heart that I wasn’t trusting God.I felt weak and hopeless but I could be strong and courageous because God was with me.
To illustrate this a little more, I have a story that might encourage you and help describe what I mean.

A Lack of Gratitude Is a Symptom

Recently I was at a conference and I heard a man named Carlos Whittaker share his story.

Carlos had everything going for him.
He was a People’s Choice Award Winner for a viral youtube video called “Single Ladies Devastation”. A record deal was in the works and life literally was the best—but then just a short time later his life turned upside down.
Recalling one visit to his counselor he said he just felt like, “I gotta figure out how to get things right again—how to clean out the cobwebs in my life.”
Later he visited his Father to talk about life and he shared that he was just trying to figure it out—how to clean out the cobwebs.
His father turned to him and said—“Carlos, you’re going after the wrong thing. You don’t need to clean out the cobwebs, you need to kill the spider.”
That story stuck with me for three reasons.
  1. Cobwebs are a symptom.

  2. The Spider is the real problem.

  3. We need each other to speak truth and life into our lives for the times when we get so focused, others can help us to see what is right in front of us.
If you are having a hard time finding things to be grateful for—find your spider to know how to overcome fear that won’t go away!

A Different Perspective of Building

The three years we lived in our garage we lived without a lot of things. In the process, we learned that our journey hasn’t been about God wanting us to build a house only—it was more about Him building gratitude in us.

How to Cultivate Gratitude

Cultivating gratitude can be done in several ways, but here are 3 practical ways you can start today.
  1. Look for ways others are blessing you and tell them you are thankful for them.

  2. Do a Gratitude Texting Challenge with a partner for 14 days. Pick a friend, a time, and text that friend 3 things you are grateful for—for 14 days.

  3. Practice gratitude by using a gratitude journal.
For another perspective, Lysa TerKeurst, from Proverbs 31 Ministries writes about her own struggle with gratitude. She talks a little more about what to do when you don’t feel very thankful.

The Ultimate Gratitude Challenge

If you’re looking to really deepen your sense of gratitude, write down three things you’re grateful for every day for 30 days.
Now here’s the most challenging part—do this without repeating.

Sharing Stories of Gratitude

When I first started I mentioned Proverbs 13:12 how hope deferred makes the heart sick…well the second part of Proverbs 13:12 says,

“but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”

Today I am grateful to say that we have a new home. We no longer live in our garage. This is testimony of desires fulfilled—and it’s a tree of life.
It’s a tree of life for us—and for others to be encouraged.

Do you have a story of gratitude that you can share?

The funny thing is that when we share how our desires have been fulfilled and we see how others have had their desires fulfilled we also see more and more ways that we’re grateful.
If you’ve got a grateful story, please share it in the comments. You never know how it will spark gratitude in someone else!

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  1. You’ve challenged me to find my spider! It’s so easy to take the gifts I’m given–parenting, meaningful work, etc–and turn them upside-down into burdens. I’ll be taking your good advice to intentionally pursue gratitude.

    1. Yes! It’s funny how that lil’ spider creeps into our lives, but wreaks such havoc! Love your heart, Joanna, and I know that He will be faithful in blessing you as you seek Him. Be blessed sweet friend! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I really like the analogy with the spider! I’ve been thinking about this difference recently too- I shared last year in our thanksgiving service how my circumstances hadn’t all changed, but my heart had changed and that helped me to view what was going on differently. Love your explanations here, gleaned from those garage days! 😉

    1. Thank you so much, Jennifer! I know that spider analogy just hits you, doesn’t it?! I love that too. Thank you so much for sharing part of your story as well—how your heart changed. I know that it helps me to realize and I’m sure it’ll help others to know that we are not alone, but we can persevere. If you can do it, I can do it. If she can do it, then I can do it.

  3. Love this, Sonya! Being grateful for the glass…. that’s SO good. We are too quick to measure how thankful we are are and what we have to be thankful for (or not!) when we need to take a step back and look at the “glass”. We are here today, living and breathing. A total gift. Something to be utterly grateful for. Half-full or half-empty, we find our wholeness in Christ. Yay! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you so much, Laura! I was so grateful for the Lord revealing to me such a different perspective with that analogy. It helped me so much to see and appreciate His goodness in new ways.

  4. Bess Velzen says:

    I came back to this article in lieu of Thanksgiving’s approach and I wanted to share how God has fulfilled a dream. We’ve been living with my in-laws for 5 years now in a rented, but shared space. It’s been challenging for sure and we still feel in many ways that we are waiting for a home, but when I think about your glass analogy, I remember all that God has done and I am so grateful! We have 3 beautiful children, a wonderful house, a good and growing relationship with my husband’s parents, we’ve been able to become debt free and save and now we are to the point where we are saving for our own house. During this season of COVID I also have to admit that it’s been really nice to have a built in community at home. Thank you for the reminder from last year to keep this perspective instead of focusing on all the things that make me feel stagnant. May God bless you.

    1. Thank you Bess, for your comment. Literally when I read it I started bawling. You’ve been through so much and yet I love your heart in searching out the things that matter. May God continue to bless you and your family as you remember His faithfulness. Blessings and prayers for you today.

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