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The Subversive Act of Gratitude

“Devote yourself to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.” Colossians 4:2

by Nicole Unice, author of The Struggle is Real

Gratitude seems to come easily for many—after all, there are so many things to be happy about! Grateful people are cheerful and positive, And they seem to wake up with a song in their heart and a spring in their step.

I am not that person.


I am the person who might wake up with a song but quickly change tune to absorb the complaints or concerns of the day. As soon as my eyes open from sleep, I get caught up in the deluge of details that my life seems to demand, swept away by the frustration du jour like a flash flood in my soul. I’m much more likely to be found rehashing my complaints than counting my blessings.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude, particularly in a season where it feels the obligatory virtue to cultivate. And since it doesn’t come so naturally, I’ve been wondering why it’s hard—and why it’s worth finding that song in our hearts again. Here’s what I’m learning:

1. Gratitude Exists in Faith

It’s pretty easy to be grateful when everything’s going the way you want. But when the prayers haven’t been answered and you feel like you’ve been waiting a lifetime for a blessing from God—well, that’s a little more challenging. It’s in our nature to withhold our affections when we aren’t getting what we want. And it’s immature.

When I’m waiting on God to answer me, what I want to do is “remind”—er, complain to—God about whatever that thing or that person or that situation means to me. I don’t want to thank God or anyone else for anything else because I don’t want him to forget about that BIG THING that’s bothering me.

Dear one, he has not forgotten.

Psalm 56:8 says, “You keep track of all my sorrows.” I imagine my heavenly Father holding on to me with gentle affection, reminding me that he has not forgotten about my concerns. Withholding my praise is not accomplishing anything but a bad attitude. God is not moved by my manipulation—nor is anyone else. Gratitude increases our faith because it forces us to believe that God has not forgotten and that we can be grateful in spite of the things we don’t understand.

2. Gratitude Cultivates Hope

There’s something really noticeable about a genuinely grateful person. In this age of bad news, dark times, and anything-goes behavior, it’s actually weird when someone is settled in hope. As the world gets darker around us, the light of Christ can shine even more brightly in us. But it’s the attitude and perspective of our hearts that those around us will notice. When we live with hope, we demonstrate that we believe in a greater power than the darkness around us. Gratitude is a subversive act that defies what the world is shouting at us to believe. Gratitude is about deciding to hope for more—more goodness even when we feel hard-pressed by fear or anger or obligation.

When I wake up in the morning, I have a choice to make. I can set my intention to focus on the hopeful in my life, or I can react to whatever hits me first—which, as we already discussed, is not exactly a joyful spirit. When I set my intention on hope, I decide to notice what’s good around me. I notice the warmth of my coffee cup in my cold hands. I notice the first streaks of light coloring the morning sky. I pay attention to the people around me who are also seeking goodness and freedom and joy, and I am grateful for them. And that gratefulness is like a gardener, carefully pulling up weeds of frustration and resentment so that delicate, beautiful hope has room to grow.

3. Gratitude Is Trust in Action

When I turn my complaints over to the Lord and leave them with him, I’m telling him I trust him. When I’m frustrated by a coworker but I decide to hold my tongue and continue to bring the best to my work, I’m telling God I trust him. When I notice the small beautiful things in my morning instead of rehashing my problems, I’m telling God I trust him. When I can cry over the brokenness of the world and of the ones I love but then thank God for the way he heals, I’m telling God I trust him.

Colossians 4:2 says, “Devote yourself to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.” Cultivating gratitude takes devoted attention. It takes fierce commitment to joy. It takes faith. But over time—almost imperceptibly—something begins to happen in our souls when we count our blessings. Noticing the good in our lives declaws the bad. As we make a little room for praise, for hope, for gratitude each day, we have a little less room for resentment and bitterness and frustration.

And I’m thankful for that.


Nicole Unice is a Bible teacher, author, and passionate communicator who delights in bringing God’s Word to life in a personal and relevant way. Her training as a counselor informs her work, as she emphasizes the importance of facing our own reality and embracing the transforming power of God’s grace.

Her heart belongs to Hope Church in Richmond, Virginia, where she serves as ministry director, leading discipleship and Praxis, a full-time ministry residency program for young leaders. In addition, Nicole co-hosts Hope Cast, a podcast on spiritual formation, leadership, and relationships.

Nicole’s invitations to speak have taken her across the world, and her books come to life through her popular video curriculum series found on RightNow Media. Her first book, She’s Got Issues, released in May 2012 and speaks to a fundamental question of faith: Is being a Christian supposed to change me? Also available is a companion curriculum, She’s Got Issues DVD Group Experience, a six-session journey that includes interviews, questions, and teaching expanding on the book. Her subsequent titles—Brave Enough and The Struggle Is Real—help people distill the complicated stuff of life into a simple and clear path to Jesus.

Nicole holds degrees from the College of William and Mary and from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She loves creating a space for ministry and spiritual formation in the everyday rhythms of life with three children, two pups, one husband, and a whole community of twentysomethings who regularly raid her fridge.

Nicole is known for making friends in all corners of the world, especially via social media. Connect with her on Instagram, YouTube, or at nicoleunice.com—and hopefully face-to-face at one of her upcoming events.

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