ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
We don’t always see ourselves quite as others see us. I once participated in a leadership training course that required us to do a 360 Review. We first filled out a self-evaluation regarding character, the way we work with people, etc. Then we submitted the same assessment to five of our friends or co-workers to give their feedback on the same questions. What a revelation that was! We may see ourselves as a team player, while someone else views us as unapproachable. We may think we’re cheerful and happy, but a co-worker finds us withdrawn and serious! A friend may ask, “Are you upset about something?” Your answer would be, “No, that’s just my normal face!”
What I think I see is not always what’s on the inside of a person; however, something that will always shine through is a heart of gratitude! Do you have one friend that can seemingly always see the silver lining in every situation. That’s the one who is the encourager, the exhorter – the one who always reminds us that even though the situation looks bleak, it could be much worse! In all honesty, sometimes we’d like to put up our umbrellas to shield us from those showers of positivity!
Recently, I’ve come to realize that one of the primary things God wants to develop in each of us is an “Attitude of Gratitude.” In fact, this is so significant that the Scripture tells us in I Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God concerning you.” I love the Phillips translation which says, “Be thankful, whatever the circumstances may be. If you follow this advice, you will be working out the will of God expressed to you in Jesus Christ.” This is God’s will for me! If I’m not giving thanks, am I rebelling against His will for me? Now, there’s a disconcerting thought!
When we look at the world around us, or even at our personal circumstances, it may seem like God is asking us to do something impossible! How can I be grateful that I’m living as a widow? Or when I worry about finances, or family, or security, or any of the hundreds of things that daily prey upon our minds? Sometimes I don’t find within myself even the DESIRE to give thanks in these things! What’s to be done?!
The answer to that question lies in the fact that we can only experience joy and a grateful spirit when our focus is on eternal things that never change or pass away. When we keep our eyes on the Father, and when we plant our feet firmly on the foundation that remains solid, then we can see everything else as temporary. When we see our challenges and frustrations as temporary, our thoughts begin to change. We realize that we are grateful for those things that are the bedrock of our existence, those things that are eternal.
Have you ever noticed how science is continually catching up to validate what the Bible has said for centuries? Recent studies have indicated that expressing gratitude is one of the most emotionally healing things we can do! Hmmm….maybe that’s why God has so much to say about giving thanks! Expressing gratitude and giving thanks bring with them many benefits. For instance, gratitude tends to support how we see ourselves. People who regularly express gratitude tend to be less hard on themselves when facing challenges. Gratitude can counteract symptoms of depression by enhancing peace of mind. Relationships are strengthened, stress is reduced, and positive emotions increase.
Simply expressing gratitude may have lasting effects on the brain by training it to see life differently. This, in turn, can contribute to better mental health over time. In short, the habit of expressing gratitude releases us from toxic emotions and leads us to a much better state of mind.
So, wow! You can change your brain simply by expressing gratitude! An interesting book called “The Gratitude Project” (which is a compilation of works by numerous authors) unpacks how what they refer to as the “science of thankfulness” can rewire our brains for resilience and optimism. Who doesn’t want that?!
It often takes years to work through the grief surrounding the loss of a spouse. Initially, it’s very difficult to find anything that could possibly be good about the whole situation. We may even feel guilty when those little sparks of renewed joy begin to appear in our lives. We ask ourselves how we can possibly give thanks or express gratitude for ANYTHING in the midst of this situation.
Over and over and over, I find the suggestion made by multiple authors in multiple resources: begin to keep a gratitude journal. Take the time every day to write one or three or five things you are grateful for that day. The number is not important. What’s important is that you are changing the direction of your thoughts. You are beginning to rewire your brain to move you ahead to a better place mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and ultimately physically! This may be extremely difficult, especially at first when we really don’t want to see anything positive about being a widow! But perseverance will yield results. You will begin to see changes in the way you view things.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 clearly tells us that there is a time for every single thing under the sun. It even says there is a time to mourn….AND a time to rejoice! I encourage you to take the time you need to mourn but realize that there will once again be a time to rejoice. Take the time today to begin your Gratitude Journal that will move you in the direction of a new season….a new design just as beautiful as the old one, but completely new and different.
As always, your comments are welcome. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.