13 Nov A New Kind of Thankful
Does Thanksgiving give anyone else “spiritual” anxiety? If I’m honest, reflecting on blessings is sometimes hard. Not because I have a shortage of things for which to be thankful, but because I’m never quite sure my heart is as thankful as it should be. Give two seconds’ thought to global affairs and our thankfulness lists should be a mile long. So why, when my brain gratitude list is a mile long, does my heart gratitude list feel short?
A Cornucopia Confession
Around Thanksgiving last year, I was in a casual conversation with a friend: “Yeah, I don’t really get thankfulness,” I admitted.
He stared back at me like I had three heads. I stammered something else, quickly trying to explain what I meant, but I’m pretty sure my confession still confused him. Thankfulness is fundamental, after all.
Don’t get me wrong. Of course I can identify the blessings in my life that I neither deserve, nor wish to lose. And I am thankful for those things. Or am I?
Is it genuine gratitude or just an inventory recognizing a diverse array of assets? Does listing them guarantee my gratitude? Is it possible to be thankful without feeling thankful? Is it black and white, pass or fail — grateful or ungrateful — or is there room to grow and mature as we go?
My self-talk willingly blames and accuses:
Well, you must not have the right perspective if you’re struggling with gratitude. You clearly need an attitude adjustment.
Argh. No drrr.
Just focus more on the positive blessings until it changes you.
But it doesn’t change me.
Just do it better.
What do you mean how?
I mean HOW.
You just do it. Other people do it.
Welcome to what stuck in my head sounds like. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who’s been there.
You know when a word is overused, how it loses its rich meaning and trips downhill into the greige space of inspirational t-shirts, modern farmhouse decor, and cheesy journal covers? That’s what happened to my understanding of gratitude. I needed resurrection power to breathe real life into it again. For me, that came through the gift of a friend who introduced me to the practice of appreciation.
Replacing the word “thankfulness” with “appreciation” was a huge lightbulb moment; I may not know how to reside in this mysterious super-spiritual state of “thankfulness,” but I do understand appreciation. I can picture it and it has so much lightness and delight to it…can it possibly be the same thing?
YES! REALLY? YES!
Have you ever heard this verse before?
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)
I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard this passage used countless times, often to impose what I like to call false femininity (i.e. women should be simple, quiet, syrupy sweet, eternally pleasant, and not concerned with harsher realities.)
Because of that misuse, this verse was basically ruined for me. UNTIL. Isn’t that what God always does? Ruined UNTIL. Toxic UNTIL. Distorted UNTIL. Until the refreshing relief of renewal.
Okay, hang with me. Think about something you truly appreciate: something like, say, a beautiful sunset, the scent of candles, a fire warming your toes, the first bite of a beloved recipe, the gut laughter of friends who truly enjoy you. All these things — and oh, so many more — are true, noble, right, authentic, compelling, and gracious. Right?
Yeah, But What’s the Point…Really?
Why should I make appreciation a focus in my life, you ask? If you’re expecting, “Because God said so!” then you’ll be pleased to hear a more satisfying answer.
When we recall these authentic and compelling moments, and actively appreciate them, our minds and hearts are literally working together to push against all the hard: all the pain, all the fear, all the loss, all the injustice. You’re not ignoring the difficulties you’re facing, you are just taking a step back to breathe the breath of life and throw up a very important “reserved” sign that literally creates an in-real-life, internal space for relationship with God and people, even when distress threatens to overwhelm you.
This Gift is for You
If you worry that true gratitude might elude you, can I just say, “I hear you. Care to come a little closer?”
Maybe you just need to experience that He isn’t greedy. Maybe you’re worried if you truly enjoy your blessings, He’ll take them away. You’ve lost a lot already, haven’t you?
Can you lift your head, Mama? The gift isn’t heavy. And it’s for you.
The gift is appreciation. Just take it for a moment and see what you think. What do you appreciate again? Tell me all about it? Take your time. Or tell Him? Delight in it. He delights in your delight.
With practice, you may find that same gift becomes an open door: to God, to your husband, to your children, to yourself.
Enjoy. Oh, and welcome back to the beautiful power of gratitude.