Gratitude is a choice. A powerful choice.
Especially in difficult seasons of life. Problem is, gratitude is an unnatural response for most of us humanoids. Even in normal times (are there such times?) being grateful doesn’t come automatically for the majority of humankind. Something in our psyche seems to default to complaining and negativity. During times of crisis like COVID-19, gratefulness tends to be more difficult to locate.
Even the Apostle Paul said: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” And a bit later he wrote: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” One of the greatest leaders in Christian history had to learn how to develop the practice of gratitude. Apparently, we’re not born with this aptitude. It must be acquired. And when we do, powerful things happen. Life-changing things. I’ll list those a bit later.
Question is . . . how do we acquire an aptitude for gratitude? How in the world do we get there? And why does it matter? Let’s start with the how, and end with the why. Here’s how:
Find God in every situation
In good situations, and in not-so-good situations. If you belong to Him, He is with you always—for real. He never wastes anything in your life, whether it’s good or not-so-good. Ask Him, “What are You wanting to teach me in this situation Lord?” “What are You up to?” Even though the current situation you’re experiencing may simply stink, you can be certain God will leverage it for your good in the future. We’re not grateful for the pain—we’re grateful for what God will produce in and through us as a result of how we respond to the pain.
I’ve had more than a few people ask me what the catalysts were for starting Converge Coaching, and I tell them one of the catalysts was pain. The personal pain of major depression experienced years ago. The pain of watching leaders struggle with their emotional health, often ending in their premature exit from vocational ministry. And for some, sadly, their premature exit from this world.
Pain can be a teacher, but only if you try to find God in it. If you’re struggling to find Him in those moments, invite others into your pain to help you . . . a trusted friend or family member, a mentor or counselor.
Be grateful for what you have instead of ungrateful for what you don’t have
Today I’m thankful for legs that walk, hands that write, eyes that see, ears that hear, a brain that still functions, a roof over my head, food in the fridge, a car that runs, a wife who loves me, children who’ve grown into wonderful adults, daughters-in-law who love our sons, grandbabies who love papa and grandma, friends who are dear, work I love to do . . . and on and on it goes.
When we focus on what we don’t have, happiness and joy become elusive. When we focus on what others have that we don’t, discontentment lurks. When we practice gratefulness for what we do have, we locate joy, no matter what circumstances swirl around us.
Focus on what’s left . . . not on what’s lost
I’m not suggesting we deny legitimate loss in our lives. During the pandemic of COVID-19, there has been plenty of loss. Loss of life, loss of health, loss of personal contact with close friends, loss of certain freedoms, loss of income, etc. These losses are real and must be acknowledged as such. Denial is unhealthy. But I’m learning all over again that even while I acknowledge and grieve these losses, good things are still happening in my life. So, while we grieve our losses, let’s also celebrate what’s left.
Okay, enough about the how. Now let’s pivot to the why. Why does practicing gratefulness matter? Why should we put effort into it? Here are eleven good reasons. Kudos to Dr. Randy Kamen who spells these out in a HuffPost article:
- Improved physical, emotional, and social well-being
- Greater optimism and happiness
- Improved feelings of connection in times of loss or crises
- Increased self-esteem
- Heightened energy levels
- Strengthened heart, immune system, and decreased blood pressure
- Improved emotional intelligence
- Expanded capacity for forgiveness
- Decreased stress, anxiety, depression, and headaches
- Improved self-care and greater likelihood to exercise
- Heightened spirituality
Convinced yet? Amazing power resides within gratitude. It’s worth the effort to develop this aptitude. Perhaps you’re wondering: “can I learn this skill?” Let Paul encourage you with his well-known line from Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” Paul’s words here are written in the context of learning how to be content. If we bring the effort, God will supply the strength to live with gratitude, no matter our circumstance.
Here’s a next step to try: Start your daily prayer time with Jesus by thanking Him for three things from the previous day. This represents the practice part of gratitude. Try it for a week and see if it helps you. I hope you discover the life-changing power of gratefulness at a deeper level than ever before!
Grateful for you!