A few years ago in a BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) group, a woman continually asked for prayer to have a grateful attitude in all areas of her life. To me, the request seemed trivial. As I ignorantly passed judgement, I had no idea the impact her wise words would have on my life. Three years later, her words rang in my ears during sleepless nights with my son.
My son’s first year was challenging for all of us. He was in serious pain and we could not soothe him. He was treated for severe ‘silent’ infant reflux (GERD). By ‘silent’, I mean he never spit up; it burned coming up and it burned as he gulped it back down. His name is Aiden, which means little fire, and his little throat was on fire. It is no exaggeration to say he cried much of the day and ALL night long. He could not stay asleep and slept a few 40-minute stretches each night until he was 10 months old.
I was defeated. I knew his pain was not my fault but it was my deepest desire to fix it. I questioned the Lord as I prayed for healing but the hurt continued. I lost my thankfulness for a smart, growing and otherwise healthy child. I wasn’t grateful for the medicine that took the edge off his pain, because it didn’t cure it. I neglected to be thankful for my husband who was steady and supportive to a wife who was depressed, and focused only on our son. I was exhausted and emotionally drained. I began to pray for a grateful attitude because while I knew I had much to be thankful for, I didn’t feel grateful.
Gratefulness. Again and again, the request to be grateful NOW was offered up to the Lord. But my efforts at gratitude were meager and simply for survival.
I clung to the doctors’ promises that Aiden would get better. He did. At 11 months, he crawled, muscles were strengthened, and he slept a little more. At 15 months, he walked and slept all night. We weaned him off of the medication.
Since then, I have focused on gratitude only sporadically. Sporadic gratitude means that when trouble comes, I’ve forgotten how to look at my situation through a filter of gratitude.
When I left my job last June, I was scared but excited to finally be a stay-at-home mom. My husband and I worked hard to make this possible. I thought I had realistic expectations of what stay-at-home life would be. I knew staying home was going to be challenging, but I expected it to be natural and to bring joy. I didn’t expect loneliness, days were all I felt was drained, or the way my poor character traits would be reflected in my children. I did find joy in many moments, but overall I found myself feeling unfulfilled. Six months in, I had a life altering realization.
It wasn’t my circumstance that made me unhappy, it was my ungratefulness.
I began to try to make gratitude a lifestyle. A practice. I don’t just mean being polite and saying thank you. I mean taking a step back to SEE what I HAVE. I started a Gratitude Journal and researched how others have practiced gratitude. I took time to recall and record answered prayers; to count the ways the Lord IS faithful. I tried to start every day praying for gratefulness and end each day with my journal.
Here are 6 topics that repeatedly fill my gratitude journal:
- Jesus: my Lord and savior, and His grace and faithfulness
- Spouse: my husband who works hard, loves me, and is my best friend
- Children: my children, their unique personalities, laughter and playful, funny spirits
- Community: our family, church and friends – people we do life with
- What I ALREADY own: focus on being happy with what we already own, not what we want
- Simple pleasures: kindness of strangers, good advice, beauty in nature, teachable moments, etc.
Slowly, I began to feel change. Gratitude makes it hard to feel anger or self-righteousness and generates JOY. It makes room for more gentleness and patience. When ‘stuck’ at home for days with sick kids and a traveling husband, I feel less stir-crazy. I recognize how much my husband’s long hours and travel schedule are his sacrifice and gift to me so I get to stay home. I desire to seek the Word of God and feel the Lord changing and softening my heart.
After months of effort, gratitude is slowly penetrating my attitude and life, yet I have only scratched the surface.
When I forget to practice gratitude, I am quick to return to selfish, impatient, and ungrateful habits. Sometimes I just get BUSY and distracted. I am not proud o say that sometimes I don’t feel like being grateful and choose not to be. One of the main reasons I started this blog is to explore further what it means to practice gratitude. I am still in pursuit but know it will be a lifelong journey. There is no such thing as being grateful enough.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)