Have you heard the story of the woman who decided to write down one thing she was grateful for every day for a year? Despite her seasons of struggle and suffering, her determination to focus on the sweetest aspects of life resulted in a tangible and incredible change in her perspective. The practice of gratefulness literally changed her from the inside out. After hearing that story over 20 years ago, it left an impression on me that still resonates today.
When I hear the term “gratitude,” it sounds so simplistic and underwhelming. But how often is it that the simple practices and professions in life ultimately become the most personal and significant in leading to real life change. Practicing gratitude–as simple as it sounds–is a revolutionary way of thinking, a decision to turn our backs on the lies that keep us harboring bitterness and face the truth: that we are meant to live with joy.
However, ask any loving parent to sum up all of their hopes and dreams for their child’s future using ONE word and you will most likely hear, “Happiness.” No one would fault a parent for desiring to give such a blessing; many of us automatically choose the same thing, having pursued this goal most of our own lives. We work hard, reminding ourselves that our dedication will someday lead to a life that will finally grant us the proverbial “happily ever after.” Yet the reality is most of us are more familiar with that sickening feeling of disappointment and regret when the path we chose leads to a dead-end…when we realize “happily ever after” is just an illusion.
What then? What if what we earmarked as “required for happiness” never manages to materialize?
What if what we earmarked as “required for happiness” never manages to materialize?
When I consider my deepest desires for my most precious people, my children, I no longer pray for happiness. I pray instead for the rich root of gratitude to take hold and give them a strong foundation in contentment and joy. As we grow in the practice of gratitude, we begin to see life not through our preconceived notions of satisfaction, but through the joy and rest of God’s perfect plan for our lives, whatever that may be. We begin to understand the wonderful difference between happiness and joy; happiness often results from circumstances, while joy is found in the deeper meaningfulness of life. Joy is of the soul; the profound sense of fulfillment beyond circumstances.
One of the most powerful teachers for me is witnessing God’s people exhibiting joy in the midst of hellish circumstances. The authentic sheen of their soul, consistently resolute though all the walls seem to be falling down, marks the proof of supernatural phenomenon.
What if we taught our children to live grateful lives? What if we wore holes in the carpet leading to the prayer closet as we continually ask God for the ability to not only ACCEPT all of life’s trials but to learn to express gratitude for the pain, as well as for the blessings? I am praying for my kids to learn how to lean into the uncomfortable and know that unspeakable richness that is often gifted to those who suffer–and that they will see this type of perspective growing in my own life, as well.
In my own life, I have found that my most difficult, long-term struggles all smell of a similar odor. They reek of unrealistic expectations and the preconceived notions of how I thought my life was supposed to be like, joined with the stink of comparison and the stench of selfishness. But when I allow real life to take center stage, and let my idealistic perfect life fade into the background, I rest much more fulfilled and gratified. I start to actually live life and enter in, instead of pining for something more or something different.
When I allow real life to take center stage, and let my idealistic perfect life fade into the background, I rest much more fulfilled and gratified.
This is the peace that transcends understanding, and it is real, eternal, and cannot be robbed away. Neither diminished by fear, it will endure hardship and suffering. Even persecution cannot annihilate the enduring calm that comes from God alone. As the Psalmist writes, “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me” (139:5). This verse presents the idea that we are literally ENCASED in his presence. Surrounded by his love. Eternally safe within his protection.
This type of peace finds its ultimate fulfillment in death, when we step out of the stained shroud of our sinful being and enter into the sublime and perfect peace promised in the pages of Scripture. May we train our eyes to see beyond the world’s empty promises. May we begin to cling to what we profess to know is true. May we trust and seek and confess and grow, all the while knowing that a heart that overflows with gratitude is a heart that knows profound joy regardless of circumstance.
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
in the light of His glory and grace.” –Helen Howarth Lemmel
Here are a few ideas of how to practice gratitude:
- Write down at least one thing you are grateful for each day.
- Ask your roommate, child(ren), or spouse sometime at the dinner table or before bedtime what they are grateful for that day.
- Sing hymns to your children that lift their perspective out of the world and toward higher things.
- Memorize verses on gratitude. For example: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess 5:16-18).
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Image Credit: Jarle Refsnes, Creative Commons