Many research studies and articles have been written about temperament and personality traits. They show that people have different natural inclinations. Think about it right now. I bet you can make a list of people in your life who always seem to see the positive side of things. Conversely, I bet you can make a list of people who always seem to see the negative side of things.
I remember early on in life being taught to be content and thankful regardless of the circumstances of my life. My mom and dad were masters of encouraging (sometimes demanding, that's for another post) gratefulness. Their tactics included a threefold strategy in responding to my requests (literal translation... my demands and whining):
- They'd begin by rattling off a few selected phrases from Philippians chapter 4 -- "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation...."
- The next step in their strategy entailed a reality check. This line of reasoning included challenging me to make observations. Look around, granted there are people who have more than you or have it easier AND there are many more people who have less or are facing harder circumstances than you.
- Finally, my folks would ask me where I had focused my eyes. Had I decided to look at what I had been given and be grateful or would I choose to whine, complain, and be miserable? (This doesn't sound like much of a choice... duh.)
I've learned this threefold strategy and must admit I've used it a few times with my three children. What I missed along the way is that genuine gratitude can indeed coexist with sadness and disappointment.
I learned this as one of my children experienced something difficult and was sharing his disappointment and pain with me. You see I quickly moved to one of my foolproof tactics -- and this child spoke real truth to me. His words continue to echo in my ears, Mom, can I just be sad for a little while? I guess I'm still learning we can experience difficulties, disappointments, and pain in the midst of gratitude and don’t have to deny either the gratitude or the pain.
I believe gratitude comes from a heart that is open to God. A heart that is open to see with new eyes and trust in ways that do not always make sense. I believe gratitude is learned over time and can be expressed at even greater depths as we allow God to meet us in our disappointments and pain.
Focusing Our Attention
Read through Philippians chapter 4. Find a place where you can read this chapter aloud, better yet have someone read it to you. This letter, written by Paul was likely to have been read aloud among the community of Christ followers. These words were placed right before a brief and final greeting at the conclusion of the letter. No doubt their placement left a lasting impact and continued to ring in the listeners' ears long after they'd been heard.
What do you notice in your reading?
What words or phrases stand out to you?
Essence of the Practice
If the only prayer you say in your life is "thank you," that would suffice. --Meister Eckhart
In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich."--Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Real life isn't always going to be perfect or go our way, but the recurring acknowledgement of what is working in our lives can help us not only to survive but surmount our difficulties. --Sara Ban Breathnach
This week practice gratitude.
- Pray using these phrases: Today I am grateful for... AND God, thank you for this day of life and for...
- Make a list of all the things you are thankful for...
- Begin each prayer with Thank you for...
- Express your gratitude to your family or friends over a meal by calling them by name and citing one specific thing you are grateful for about this person's character.
- Express your gratitude to a family member, friend, co-worker, teacher, coach, etc. who lives in a different city by calling them or writing them a letter. (I just did this for my dad on his birthday. I thought it would be one page and it ended up four handwritten pages. I had a lot of things I needed to acknowledge and he needed to know I noticed.)
- Take several pieces of paper and write down one thing on each paper you are thankful for. Place them in a gratitude box or bottle and review them from time to time. You could use post-it notes and place them on your mirror or on a wall.
- Make it a daily practice to record one thing you are grateful for and write it on your calendar. Review the list with God at the end of each week.
Note: You could even incorporate this practice of gratitude and thanksgiving with the breath prayer we talked about earlier.
Which one of the ideas did you try? How did it go? What did you notice about yourself and/or your relationship with God as you practiced gratitude this week?What has been your experience with practicing gratitude?