When I was much younger, we used to sing a song in church that went like this:
Count your blessings, name them one by one.
Count your blessings, see what God has done.
Count your blessings,
Name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God has done!
Sometimes counting our blessings is much more easily said than done! When life throws us a curve, or when some trauma or tragedy enters our space, it’s not always so easy to find the blessing in it. In fact, we often don’t even WANT to see a blessing in it. We just want things to be back the way they were before our peace was disrupted!
Last week we talked about how finding a quiet moment to focus on God helps to restore our peace. The second step that can help us rediscover peace involves gratitude. By definition, gratitude is “…the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Gratitude is more than a nice feeling when things are going well. It’s easy to feel grateful when life is good! It’s not so easy to choose to be grateful when faced with a trauma or difficulty! But the fact is that gratitude is a choice. Gratitude requires intentional stillness and reflection that move us towards a place of peace.
There’s a great deal of scientific research that indicates that gratitude (or thankfulness) has the power to energize, to heal, and to bring hope. Research also clearly shows that gratitude helps us to cope with crisis, and that grateful people are more resilient to stress both in everyday life and in times of major crisis. Reframing your situation and seeing it through a lens of gratefulness actually changes your brain chemistry and contributes to a greater sense of well-being.
Let’s consider for a minute the three parts to cultivating a mindset of gratitude. The first is recognizing that there are things we can be grateful for. Following the death of a spouse, this first part is often the most difficult. During those early months after the loss of your husband, it is nearly impossible to focus on what the blessings might be in the midst of the pain. Overcoming this hurdle takes intentional times of stillness and waiting for those good things to come to mind. I’m not at all saying that we should be grateful for our husband’s death!! However, if we look, there are things co-existing with our grief that bring to mind God’s love and care.
The second part is to acknowledge or name those things for which we are grateful. I recently bought a “gratitude journal”, with the goal of writing down three things every day for which I was grateful. The first few days were similar to going around the table at Thanksgiving dinner to say what we’re thankful for! My home, my car, my dog, clothes, and food were all worthy examples. But after a few days, that well ran dry, and I began to have to think a little deeper to continue to find those three things daily. I began to see the myriad blessings that exist in my life. Some were big and visible, but some were tiny and less visible. Nonetheless, acknowledging each one and giving it a name began to change something in my heart.
The third part is expressing appreciation for each of those things we’ve named. Writing thank-you notes for gifts and acts of kindness is fast becoming a lost art in our culture. Did you know that there is something that actually changes in our brains when we express appreciation? Don’t ask me to explain all the science here, but you can Google it and find dozens of fascinating articles on the subject. So, write those thank-you notes! They’re good for you!!
All of this to say that being intentional about spending a few quiet moments in God’s Presence and being intentional about naming the things for which we are grateful begins to refocus our thinking. Taking the time to express appreciation for these things begins to change our brain chemistry! These steps begin to move us from a place of anxiety and fear to a place where we can regain our peace regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
If you are anxious or fearful as a result of being widowed, I encourage you to take this next step of naming the things for which you are grateful. This refocused mindset will move you closer to God, and you will begin to experience more of His peace and security. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:6-7
As always, your comments are welcomed, and you may email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.