Gift #3 — Gratitude

I have a little bit of a rebellious streak. Ok. I have a lot of a rebellious streak. Just ask my mom. Any time someone tells me something is good for me I tend to drag my feet.

Exercise more. Ok. Tomorrow.

Stop drinking pop. Sure thing. Next year.

Eat less chocolate … “No way!” Seriously! NO WAY!

So, I’ve learned I have to trick my brain at times into doing the things I know are good for me. That’s how I started keeping a morning routine of Bible study and prayer. I decided to give myself the “gift” of “quiet time.” Calling it a “gift” helped me imagine it was something I really wanted, and I was excited to “open” the “gift” every morning for myself.

Even before that though, I gave myself the “gift” of a change in attitude. Every night before bed, I wrote out a gratitude list of things I was grateful for during the day. It was an idea I got from Sarah Ban Breathnach in her book “Simple Abundance.” It was a “gift” I gave myself. At the end of a month of doing that, I realized how much of a difference it had made in reducing my worry time and in helping me sleep better. It made such an impact on me that I decided to give myself more “gifts” like doing yoga and the quiet time I mentioned before.

That’s where the idea of this study comes from. I want to help you give yourself “gifts” this season that will help you embrace God’s love. So far, we’ve given ourselves the “gifts” of openness and of a prayer partner. Now that you are open to new ideas and you have a prayer partner supporting you, let’s do a little attitude shifting!

Let’s look at Mary and Elizabeth again and the praises they sing when they first see each other. When Elizabeth realizes she is pregnant she expresses her gratitude by saying, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.” (Luke 1:25.) Mary responds with a beautiful hymn that begins with “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”. (Luke 1:46-47.)

Ok. It’s easy to imagine a teenager who just found out she’s carrying the son of God saying thank you and singing praises to God. It’s also easy to picture an older woman, possibly postmenopausal, singing and dancing for joy when she learns she is going to have a baby at long last. But what about an ordinary person on the dreary dark days of winter? What is there to be thankful for on those days? Or what about the couple who have gone through a miscarriage? Or the family who have lost a child this year? Or the family on the verge of bankruptcy and foreclosure? What is there to be thankful for in those circumstances?

That’s why we are going to give ourselves the gift of a habit of gratitude. So, when difficult circumstances surround us, we can still find the simple, mundane miracles that surround us every day. Gratitude becomes like a lens that you begin to view life through. Rather than focusing on lack or loss, illness or worries, gratitude inspires an awareness of the teeny tiny, ordinary miracles that surround us on the ordinary, uneventful days of our lives.

We are on a journey to rediscover the joy and mystery of Christmas. We are looking to peer behind the curtain, the thin veil that separates the spiritual from the physical world. That takes practice and intention. The wise men were students of the stars. They did not just happen to look up one night and find a new star. They knew it was different because they had been studying the night sky most likely every ordinary night for years.

Our third gift requires the same kind of devotion and practice. I ask that you practice gratitude for the next 30 days at least. Each night before you go to bed, write down four or five things you are grateful for from that day. They say it takes at least 30 days to create a new habit. My wish for you is that you begin a habit that will stay with you for the rest of your life. I have been keeping a gratitude journal for about 20 years now. If you start now, you will begin the New Year with a whole new lens.

  • Do you have shelter tonight? If so, that is a miracle. Even if it is only for tonight, it is still a miracle. Thank God for shelter.
  • Can you drive a car? That ability is a miracle. Think of the hand-eye coordination that goes into that.
  • Can you walk? Thank God for your legs and the muscles that stretch and turn and the skeleton that holds you up!
  • Too often we credit ourselves for the material things we are able to purchase. Thank God for the job that makes it possible and the degree that got you the job.
  • This morning it is 27 degrees out. I am grateful for indoor plumbing! My grandmother had to use an outhouse until she was in her 50s! Yikes!

Granted, there are days it is easy for me to find miracles like these. Other days, all I can think of is my two eyes to see, my hands to write with, my ears to hear and my family. I’ll even list out family members to make the list longer! Like I said, it takes practice. After a few weeks of making this nightly list, I came up with my own fun name for my Gratitude Journal. It’s where I keep my TUG4 list. Thank U God 4(for) list. Each entry has the date and TUG4 and then the list of four or five things I’m grateful for. For 20 years.

I was five years into my gratitude habit when my Mother called to let me know my father was in the hospital. On February 15, 2004, my father died. I remember picking up my gratitude journal that evening and thinking, “if I don’t write in this tonight I’ll never write in it again.” So, tears flowing, I wrote down what I was grateful for on that day. Of course, the number one thing was my father, his life and his love. I was grateful for the job I had that allowed me to leave work so I could be with my father when he died. In spite of the deep pain of losing him, I was grateful for the choir of “angels” (my mother, myself, my sister and brother and uncles, aunts and cousins) singing hymns to my father as he left this world. I was grateful for the choir of angels I was sure was there to greet him in Heaven. And that night I was especially grateful for the nurses, doctors and others who cared for him in ICU before he passed. My habit of gratitude not only carried me through my loss, it turned a painful moment into one of the most sacred moments of my life.

My prayer for you is that you also find strength and hope in this new habit. That your eyes will be opened to the sacred in the ordinary. That your heart, soul and mind will turn toward God’s presence in the mundane, the painful and the joyful moments of your life!

Eyes open! Watch for miracles today. Make your list tonight. Practice!

Can you see the curtain beginning to pull back? God is anxiously waiting to meet you in your practice!