As I type this, I am sitting on my couch with evening sunlight filtering in through my open blinds and sheer white curtains. My belly is full of a new recipe that worked, and I have a homemade chai on my windowsill. I have my favorite Pandora station playing on low throughout my dining and living room, over which I hear sounds of my husband and daughter laughing and playing during bathtime.
In this moment, gratitude comes easy. It is palpable. I can feel it on my skin, in the air.
But I do not always have perspective while taking in my surroundings. In the last month, I have gone on two soul-filling trips away from home, away from the ordinary. We spent a week on a houseboat with my mom’s family, and the weekend after we returned, my husband and I celebrated our 6th anniversary in LA with a baseball game, the beach, and a concert. I have had 12 days in the past 19 where I was reconnecting with nature and my family, so my heart is very full, and it is astronomically easier to find beauty in the ordinary when your soul is full and your outlook is positive. Our circumstances aren’t always chill or beautiful. Not more than four hours ago, my toddler was trying to throw herself out of my arms, screaming and refusing a nap. In that moment, I did not sigh a breath of gratitude. And sometimes, it feels like weeks of moments just like that.
Perspective. How can something I can so easily understand be so difficult for me to attain?
I am a big feeler. I can’t help it; I’ve always been. My emotions are like a pendulum, always warring with the extremes, familiar with the deep waters of both happy and sad.
Knowing and admitting this about myself is only a tiny step in the right direction. When I am feeling low, I know there is perspective out there, but I just can’t seem to sit in it. I let my circumstances dictate my emotions, and then my emotions dictate my thoughts and actions. I don’t usually feel in control. Not the most healthy way to live.
On my own, I can’t force myself to feel better, to be grateful, to surface from the waves that threaten to hold me under. Suffice it to say it can feel pretty hopeless when I am leaning on my own strength.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5,6 (NASB)
This verse is my mom’s all-time favorite, so I’ve had it memorized for as long as I can remember. When I remember to call on scripture, this verse has always been a comfort to me when I’m feeling stuck in the overwhelm. It’s reassuring to know that we don’t have to do it all on our own… The Lord doesn’t expect us to; He asks to be an integral part of our story, us intentionally letting Him in and leaning on His shoulder for support.
What I love about scripture is that it is God’s living word; parts of scripture I have glazed over in some seasons are invaluable to me in others.
The part of that verse speaking to me now is “in all your ways acknowledge Him.” Like I mentioned, I’ve heard this verse a lot growing up, and the parts that have typically stuck out are the ones with the buzzwords, like “trust,” “heart,” “understanding,” etc. I never really sat with the “acknowledge Him” part; at face value, it kind of sounds like it’s asking us to say “hey” to God or something. In this season, I am realizing exactly what that means to me.
It means finding gratefulness.
One thing that works wonders for constant perspective is grounding yourself in gratitude. But how in the world, especially in this world, do we do that?
Ann Voskamp, a beautiful, lyrical Christian author and speaker, wrote a book I read over half a decade ago called One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are.
She (among many other things) challenges us to find gratitude in the everyday tasks, to find beauty in the ordinary, to work to change our perspective of each moment. In this book, she says, “Every breath’s a battle between grudgery and gratitude, and we must keep thanks on the lips so we can sip from the holy grail of joy.” Ann has found the secret: be grateful. See the gifts the Lord has poured out all over you, all around you.
She was challenged by a friend to keep a gratitude journal and document 1,000 gifts that the Lord has bestowed upon her. Her list started with:
1. Morning shadows across the floor.
2. Jam piled high on the toast.
3. Cry of blue jay from high in the spruce.
As she began to feel the joy of the Lord blooming inside her, she got hooked on finding gratitude in small places. She began looking where you wouldn’t typically think to be grateful. Soon her list surpassed 1,000.
It has been essential to my heart health to focus on gratitude, compiling a list of little things for which I am grateful, finding them in the not-so-pleasant aspects of the ordinary.
I enjoy writing and I enjoy beauty. On one hand, words are fun to play with, finding the perfect cadence of a sentence or that specific word that fits perfectly; on the other, I am always staring out of windows in complete awe of nature and God’s vast creation. It is easy for me to be grateful there. But when the dishes are piled for the millionth time that day or the laundry is overflowing and endless, it is trickier. There is a lot more intentionality in finding perspective. Ann twists it right on its head and says where there are dishes, there is food for your family; where there is laundry, there are clothes and warmth. Sometimes, finding that gratitude just takes looking at things a different way.
Can you see how this is a life-changing way to think about our surroundings? As a lifelong grumbler, it is revolutionary for not only my mindset, but for my relationship with Jesus. “In all your ways acknowledge Him” takes on an entirely new meaning when thinking of gratitude in everything, even in the typically frustrating moments that can pile up and send me spiralling.
“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NASB)
Ann Voskamp says, “Prayer without ceasing is only possible in a life of continual thanks.” Think about that!
The command to pray without ceasing has always seemed completely unattainable, difficult for the mind, too easy to run out of stamina. But this…this makes sense to me. A constant tether to the Almighty by seeing big or little things He has given us and taking a minute to say thank you, to wonder at it, to simply be grateful.
Since reading One Thousand Gifts so many years ago, I’ve begun to compile my own list of 1,000 gifts. I fail often, and I’ll go months without touching the journal, forgetting about this important heart-work I am doing. But I have around 200 listed out. (200 sounds like a lot, but over the course of six years, that number should be much higher!) Here are some examples on my current list:
-Toy Story clouds
-crisp morning air
-meeting the sunrise
-driving the highway in the dark with a great playlist
-sword-like truths in a sermon
-watching dear friends get baptized
-an inky, new moon sky, able to see each star’s brilliance
This list is on my phone in my notes app. This note is titled “Attitude of Gratitude.” I challenge you to compile your own. Find beauty in your ordinary, in the freckles on your child’s face, in the warmth of the sun on your skin, in a cool glass of water. Be as specific as possible. Whatever it is for you, you get to decide. God has gifted an abundance of things to you; it is up to you to notice.
Originally written for sweetlyredeemed.com on August 22, 2019.