“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances;” 1Thessalonians 5:16-17
Thanksgiving is almost here. My menu has been planned, house has been cleaned and I have already started prepping for the big day. All my family will be here in a few hours. This has always been one of my favorite holidays, indulging in some family favorites while expressing gratefulness to God for His many blessings. Its time spent around the table, laughing, reminiscing, and remembering God’s faithfulness.
About ten years ago, I read Ann Voskamp’s “One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are”. It chronicles her spiritual discipline of recording God’s simple gifts every day. These are not limited to a surprise visit from a friend, or an increase in pay. Instead, these blessings are found in the mundane events of an all-too-ordinary life. This practice shifts her focus to God, and, in turn, transforms her thinking. Ann writes, “And when I give thanks for the seemingly microscopic, I make a place for God to grow within me.” She later concludes, “A life contemplating the blessings of Christ becomes a life acting the love of Christ.”
I would love to encourage all of you to rush out and buy your own copies of this book. Read it not just once, but maybe make it a habit to read every couple of years. Underline passages that speak to you, take notes, and ponder her thoughts. However, I recognize her poetic prose may not speak to everyone. So, I will share with you, in my not so poetic prose, how practicing the spiritual discipline of gratitude has changed my life.
I have a bright orange “Wake Up & Be Awesome” journal that I have been using to record my daily gratitude. Sunlight usually streams through my window, as I sit in my favorite chair with a cup of coffee, reflecting on the previous day. I think about what has transpired and record thoughts like “looking at baby clothes for my grandson”, “puddles of maple syrup in my oatmeal”, and “the soft glow of my pink salt lamp.” Some days, thoughts come quickly, and I record them with passion and joy.
But, like most people, some days, tears blur my vision and it’s hard to see any blessings. Those are the days when disappointments seem like mountains, hurts feel like stab wounds that bleed continuously, and God seems so far away. Yet, I force myself to write in my journal that almost mocks me with its brightness. I sigh deeply as I consider what I can write that would express sincere gratefulness. And then, a moment flashes in my mind. It might be “a simple text from a friend saying she was thinking of me”, or “a hug from my husband that made me feel safe”, or a “picture of Joel up to mischief that Rachel sent”. Although my situation may not have changed, the simple act of writing down blessings shifts my focus from what is hard to a reminder of God’s faithfulness and promises. These holy moments result in miracles of peace and contentment inside my soul.
I’ve learned that gratitude is easy when blessings flow, life is smooth, and all is well. However, I have also learned that gratitude is easier when life is hard if I have cultivated the practice on a regular basis. Like all habits, it can be hardwired into my brain to respond to all situations with a grateful heart. This is not ignoring the tough situations or viewing them through rose-colored glasses. Instead, it is reframing them through the eyes of God and His perspective. It doesn’t erase the hurt or pain, but it reminds me that God has a plan, and His plans are good!
My brightly colored journal will be filled at the end of this year. For my birthday, I received a new grateful journal from my son and daughter-in-law. It’s not bright yellow, but snowy white with the words “Simply Grateful” etched in gold on the cover. This guided journal has a space not only to write down what I am grateful for in the morning, but also space to reflect in the evening. I am excited to start a new practice, ending my day with written thoughts focused on God. I’ve seen the fruits of daily taking a few moments of being grateful, and I eagerly anticipate the work God will do in me when I end my evening reflecting on Him!
Thanksgiving, by its very name, is the holiday focused on being grateful. Yet, in 48 hours, my fridge will be filled with leftovers, autumn decorations will have been taken down, and Christmas merriment will have begun. But, as I continue the practice of thankfulness in my daily life, true thanksgiving will continue to lead to eternal rewards! And that is a discipline that keep on giving!