“Gratitude is the gift God gives us that enables us to be blessed by all his other gifts, the way our taste buds enable us to enjoy the gift of food.” – John Ortberg
The point of the quote above is an excellent one that bears reflection. Although Christian writer John Ortberg did not develop the analogy between gratitude and our physical taste-buds in the context of the quote, it’s a comparison that can be profitably explored.
Our taste buds, containing the taste receptor cells that allow us to experience pleasure from what we eat and drink, are minor miracles of design and planning. The average human tongue has multiple thousands of these little cell clusters, and although most people are not aware of it, they are also found on the soft palate of the mouth, the upper esophagus, the insides of the cheeks, and the epiglottis at the back of the throat.
Some people are also naturally blessed with heightened abilities of taste through having a greater number of taste buds than others. These people – representing about 20 percent of the population – are known to science as “supertasters.” Most of us (about 60 percent of the population) have an average numbers of taste buds, but another 20 percent of the population are known as “non-tasters” as they can have far fewer taste buds than average.
But whatever our natural level of taste buds may be, it is a fact that anyone – even so-called “non-tasters” – can develop their ability to recognize and enjoy tastes. That ability to develop our sense of taste is the reason some people become connoisseurs of fine foods and wines. Those who train themselves in this way develop the ability to distinguish even the slightest differences among thousands of different tastes – and to appreciate and enjoy them to a heightened extent.
Our sense of gratitude and appreciation is certainly no different. Although some people may seem to be naturally more appreciative than others (perhaps we could call them “super-appreciators”), the truth is that we can all develop our capacity for appreciation in life. And that is something, of course, that we are commanded to do in dozens of biblical verses. The apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians are only one example of many: "Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20 ESV).
How do we develop our “appreciation” buds to better honor this instruction to be appreciative for everything in our lives? We do it exactly as the connoisseur of fine foods or wines develops his or her taste buds to better appreciate tastes – we concentrate on them.
Normally, we may not pay much attention to our physical taste bud sensors; but without them eating even the finest foods would be an experience no different from chewing sawdust or styrofoam chips. A life without gratitude and appreciation is no different – we derive no real joy from the things we receive, we fail to give thanks for them as we should, and ultimately we fail to give credit to God for the gifts themselves. On the other hand, when we learn to make a habit of focusing on the gifts we receive, we learn to properly appreciate them, to give thanks for them, and to credit them to God as we should. As the book of Psalms tells us: “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me” (Psalms 50:23 ESV).
God gives us the capacity for gratitude, but we must develop it. And that is something anyone (even those with naturally few “appreciation buds”) can do with practice. We may not choose to become connoisseurs of fine wines or foods, but the God who gives us all things (James 1:17) invites, encourages, and even commands us – for the sake of our own heightened enjoyment and his praise – to become connoisseurs of his gifts.