I was ahead of my time. Way back 35 years ago, when I was at university, I found myself in a funk. Having never failed a test in my life, I’d just failed a significant exam. My chosen degree was not agreeing with me and, although not yet a Christian, I was wrestling with the big issues of faith. I can’t recall what else was going on, but I do remember that no amount of immersing myself into my studies, filling my days to capacity, or chocolate cake was making a difference. I was sad.
Within a week I could barely limit myself to a list of three things I was grateful for, and gratefully the grey cloud was gone.
Then one day there was a moment of clarity, and I knew that I had to do something about the grey cloud overhead before it overtook me. Completely out of the blue I decided to embark upon an exercise of gratitude. The exercise involved listing three things I was grateful for each day after dinner. As I said, I was ahead of my time—this was 35 years ago and #gratitude wasn’t a thing. It didn’t start well but within a week I could barely limit myself to a list of three things I was grateful for, and gratefully the grey cloud was gone.
Not long after I put my trust in Jesus, and soon came upon these verses in Philippians:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 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 4:4-7)
In the years since then, I have learned much more about how to live a life of rejoicing and gratitude—not just in the good times when there’s an abundance of things to be grateful for: the joys, the wins, the fun, the loveliness of creation. But I have found that even in the hard times—the bits that don’t make it to Instagram—there are still shards of light. Even in the midst of grief, employment stress, the hurly-burly of family life, all types of weather, COVID—there’s still so much to be thankful for.
Have you noticed anyone being heroic in quiet, courageous ways in the face of a crisis? Has your heart been warmed by the memory of a lost loved one, or by the delivery of a meal, a card or a bunch of flowers in that moment? Did you catch that glimpse of something amazing in nature during your hour of lockdown exercise?
Things to be grateful for.
And it goes deeper than that. Paul says, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Even as I cry out to God in my deepest distress I can do so gratefully, knowing that God is in control, even if I don’t feel like he is.
God is sovereign.
God is all-wise.
God is love.
No matter what happens, I am safe and saved for all eternity because of what Jesus has done for me on the cross. If nothing else—or maybe, better put, above all else—I can always thank God for his sovereignty and my salvation through his love, grace and mercy, irrespective of what is happening around me.
Gratitude is a feeling. But then there is thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is an action.
But here’s the thing about #gratitude. Gratitude is a feeling. I feel grateful. And I can wake up feeling grateful for excellent health, and then proceed to squander it with a day of junk food and junk television. All gratitude—and absolutely no action.
But then there is thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is an action. I give thanks to someone.
Here then are a couple of ways I try to put this into practice on a regular basis:
- I work at noticing the kindness of people, the light and the colour, the smile of a friend in a crowded room, all of those YES!! moments, and I give thanks to God for them. Thanking God on the spot for all the shards of light we notice through the day, no matter how small and no matter how that day is going, is a great way to start. There’s action—vertical action toward God.
- I try to express my gratitude horizontally—in the practical application of actually saying thankyou: a text, a card, a smile, real spoken words, a gesture of recognition—to show that I have noticed and that I am grateful.
Through such upward praise and outward appreciation, I find the beginnings of loving God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and loving my neighbour as myself, which is just how God would have us live.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice …