Thanksliving

There is more and more research that gratitude is good for your mental, and subsequently, physical health.  It is also good for your spiritual health.  It should be part of every Christian’s spiritual disciplines.  Spiritual disciplines are the habits we keep to stay in shape spiritually.  They are like workouts for the soul.  Common spiritual disciplines are praying, going to church, reading the Bible, and remembering the Sabbath.  But living thankfully should also be on the list.  It reminds us of God’s blessings, which reminds us of God’s love.  This is especially important in difficult times when we don’t feel blessed and can’t feel God’s love.  It is all around us, but we need to develop the eyes to see it.  And practicing gratitude is one way to do so.  Gratitude also changes us.  When we feel loved and blessed, we are more likely to feel content.  We are less likely to feel envy, jealousy, or blind ambition.  Thankfulness brings us closer to God and closer to the person God intended us to be.  It rewires our brain and the way we think about things.

But how does one practice gratitude as a spiritual discipline?  Like any workout, it requires planning, hard work, and dedication.  We must make time for it and fit it into our busy schedules.  We must take it seriously.  I don’t have all the answers, but have brainstormed a few ideas.  We can regularly thank God for the things we are grateful for.  Linda said she once practiced this but added the challenge of thanking God for something different every day.  She shared that it was not as easy as it sounds!  We can keep a “thanksliving” (thank you James for that new phrase!) journal and write about the things for which we are thankful.  We can send notes, write emails, or make calls to people we appreciate and tell them why they make a difference to us.  Too often we wait for funerals to sing the praises of those we love!  We can take seriously all of those special days that marketers use to sell products and express heartfelt thanks to each teacher, secretary, dentist, and so on.  We can start each morning with “Good morning God!  Thank you for this day!”  We can start each meal with “Thank you God for this food.”  You get the idea.  There are plenty of ways to practice thankfulness.  

This week I have taken up the challenge to be more methodical in giving thanks.  When something makes me angry or anxious, I  have been trying to find something to be thankful for instead.  I read somewhere that humans can’t feel more than one emotion at once.  So if we are feeling grateful, it shoves aside all of the other more negative emotions.  I found this to be true when I focused on what I was thankful for instead of my ire or stress.  I love my job, but I sometimes get a little anxious.  Being thankful for my students and the chance to make a difference really takes the edge off!  And when my husband irritates me, being thankful for his great cooking and respect for my children makes me feel love rather than anger.  My attitude has been much better this week, and I’ve enjoyed the more positive emotions.    

Finally, I want to acknowledge that it is not always easy to be thankful.  Sometimes, our situation is terrible and life is very hard.  I actually think it is very important to remember this when we are giving thanks in the good times.  If we practice thankfulness by focusing on health or material things, then we begin to see them as God’s blessings.  We start to forget that God’s greatest blessings are for the poor and the sick, for the widows and the orphans.  So in good times, we need to give thanks for things that will sustain us in the bad times as well.  We can all give thanks for the beauty of creation and for the relationships that sustain us.  We can all give thanks for God’s love and forgiveness, for the Spirit who guides us.  We can all give thanks for the willingness of Jesus to enter into our midst and share in life with us, to suffer for us and with us.  We can all give thanks for each breath and for the chance to learn, and grow, and develop.  These are the most important things any of us possess.  And we possess them at all times and in all circumstances.  We need to lift up our hands and give thanks for these true blessings and look to them to sustain us when the other things go away.

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