Cultivating a grateful spirit, while simple in theory, is not always easy in practice.
I’m a big fan of gratitude. I can be grateful even without feeling happy, excited, or at peace. Serving a God who works in every small detail means that there is always something to praise Him for.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (ESV)
It’s right there in the text: we are to give thanks no matter what. We wouldn’t be commanded to do so if it weren’t possible. This is how we know there is always something to grateful for.
Thankfulness is a muscle that must be exercised in order to remain effective. When we stop hunting for ways to thank God, it becomes more difficult to pick them out. I say this because I have experienced it myself. Once I get into a habit of complaining and focusing on the negative, it becomes difficult to uproot the bitterness that takes root in my heart.
I don’t want bitterness and negativity to build up over days, weeks, or even months (I’ve been there!). To keep this from happening, I try to catch myself if I’ve spent the whole day in a sour mood.
There are a few tricks I use on these days to get back on track with rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks. I hope they are helpful for you!
First, I think backwards.
I go back to one year, two years, or even five years prior and think about what life was like then. I might even pull out my phone and start scrolling through old photos. I think about what I was concerned about at that time and what I was praying for.
Chances are, several of my prayers have been answered. Even if my day has been long and frustrating, there are aspects of it that past me would be so happy to see come to fruition.
What’s more, the changes probably had very little to do with my effort and are instead a result of God’s hand in my circumstances. That makes it easy to praise.
Then, I look around and drink in the present.
I might go outside or make a second cup of coffee or text my husband or snuggle my baby and dog.
It’s easier to be thankful when I put myself in the position to enjoy the things I have. Plus, a little quality time or encouragement never hurt anybody.
Even on the longest and hardest days, there is something that can be noticed and then embraced wholeheartedly. In my experience, it only takes one little moment of thankfulness to uproot a sizeable amount of bitterness.
Finally, I look to the future.
I consider who I want to be in 10, 20, 30 years. There’s no need to think through exactly what my life will look like because, of course, anything can happen. I find it helpful, though, to consider what type of person I would like to be and what kinds of relationships I hope to have.
I imagine being a more supportive wife with each passing year who can challenge her husband one minute and have him laughing the next.
I dream about becoming a mom who is a soft place to land and steadfast in truth all at once.
I envision the legacy of faith I want to leave for my grandchildren and generations following.
Thinking forward about the things to come makes me grateful for the tough pieces of the here-and-now. I’m being refined and strengthened. I’m learning to be gentle and wise.
These trials will serve me in the long run even if they are uncomfortable in the moment.
After these three practices are done, I walk away changed.
I’ve given God praise.
I’ve reoriented my heart.
I get the sense He knows that gratitude causes these shifts to happen, and that’s why He commands it.
He uses my obedience for my good and His glory, and I’m confident He will do the same for you.