On my writing days, when I’m able to sit down for a couple of hours together, I begin by adding a few lines to my gratitude journal. Sometimes I have prayer requests that I greedily wish to list first, but I make myself begin with gratitude.
One day this past spring, however, I opened my journal and couldn’t think of a single thing to write down.
I was skeptical, but I also knew I needed something to jump start my attitude. Since it’s way too easy to buy stuff on Amazon, I searched it, clicked buy and cracked the cover two days later. As I combed my way through a foreword by a grateful quadriplegic and the author’s echo of Paul’s admonishment to be “thankful in all things”, I believed in her message, in her interpretation of Scripture calling us to be thankful, in her admonishment that gratitude has the power to transform.
But I wasn’t sure I could do it. To be grateful in all things?
I chuckled when I read this quote:
“If you can’t be thankful for what you receive, be thankful for what you escape.” (62)
I remembered how during frantic moments when our twins were newborns, my husband and I would joke that “at least it’s not triplets!” This type of levity and gratitude definitely helped us through that phase of family expansion.
I felt better about my own shortcomings in the area of practicing gratitude when I reached the “Personal PS” at the end of the book, where the author confesses her own struggle to be grateful in all things. But she keeps going, concluding:
“But my heart is set on this journey. I’m making myself accountable to others who are committed to the process with me until, by His grace, gratitude becomes the “default setting” of my heart and my response to all of life.” (163)
I decided to take her challenge and work through her 30-day devotional guide at the back of the book. After a scripture reading and commentary, she ends each day’s readings with a challenge. Some days I practiced making lists of things and people I was thankful for. Other days I wrote letters -- to share with others what I was thankful for, or to tell someone I was specifically thankful for them!
Every spring I write thank you notes to my kids’ teachers, but this year I decided to go beyond thanking the classroom teachers, which totaled eight people. I ended up writing 24 cards, as I considered anyone who had touched my children’s lives...or mine...this year. And yet, after I distributed them in the school office mailboxes, I thought of a handful of additional names that I wished I had remembered. This is one of Nancy DeMoss’s points: that gratitude begets gratitude.
My husband’s young company is in the throes of building its product and searching for its identity in its sector of the market. From what I’ve heard, the employees are enthusiastic but also acutely aware of the uncertainty that accompanies this phase of early development. Occasionally, one of the employees picks up coffee at the shop where I write. One morning I sought her out and thanked her for her hard work. I asked about other things going on in her life and let her know I understood how things could be stressful for her. I shared that my husband spoke highly of her, and that I, in turn, was grateful for her. She returned my words with a grateful smile.
I also decided that I wanted to thank my husband’s boss. Since he lives in a different city and I rarely see him, I mailed him a thank you note, specifically thanking him for the opportunity that he gave my husband to engage in challenging and exciting new work. I have heard other small business owners worry about how they are going to keep the business going in order to support their employees and their families. I put my husband’s boss in that category of conscientious employers and wondered if he could use a little boost, to hear that whatever happens in the future, I am thankful for this time right now. When my husband saw his boss a week later, he was able to relay a message back to me that the card was very appreciated.
For me, I appreciated that these challenges were taking me outside of my gratitude journal and turning my grateful thoughts into actions, almost giving them a life of their own to be shared with others.
On October 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln decided to give his despairing country a little boost. In a Declaration of Thanksgiving, Lincoln chose to make a previously occasionally celebrated event an official federal holiday, to occur on the last Thursday of November that year and to be remembered annually. (According to Wikipedia, under FDR, the holiday date was changed to the fourth Thursday in November.) As DeMoss points out, his proclamation “called the American people to recognize the Source of [its] blessings and to respond collectively to the Giver in gratitude, repentance, and intercession.” (212). It read, in part, as follows:
“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies...Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.
“No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
“It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.” (italics mine)
As a nation, we continue to celebrate Thanksgiving one day per year. Beyond that though, what could you do to show gratitude to those around you today? If you need help on where to begin, I recommend picking up a copy of Nancy DeMoss’s book. I can’t guarantee it will “make you happy”, but I do know it will surely help aid “your journey to joy.”
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.