“I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise.” Psalm 138:1
Last week, shortly after I posted my theme for 2016, I had a younger woman ask me, “How do you do that? How do fill your heart with gratitude?” It was not entirely incredulous, I think she was just asking for some practical advice on how to rid our lives of discontentment. I generally figure for every person who asks a question out loud, there are probably a few more silently wondering the same thing, so I decided I’d take a minute and explain a few things I find helpful in practicing gratitude.
I hope this is helpful… It’s a small example, but small discontentments grow if we don’t displace them. Let me know if you have had similar experiences, have additional advice, or if you need help finding the gratitude in a situation.
Well, it's January. Deepest, darkest January. (I'm pretty sure you are already aware of that.) I don't know about you, but I struggle with January. There are times I feel like I am in hand-to-hand combat with January. In ways, it is so nice to get back to a routine after the constant amusements, delights, drama and stress of the holidays. In other ways...it's January. Gray. Cold. Bleak.
I can tell I'm not the only one struggling, this year in particular. Lots of people I've spoken with have expressed that they are having difficult times right now, for any number of reasons, many of which go far beyond the mere fact that it is winter. I know of those currently struggling with marriage difficulties, the deaths of parents and grandparents, discouragement because of unfaithful loved ones, despair over spiritual leaders who are not walking right, job problems... you name it, and this winter does not seem to be a kind one to many of us.
I had a friend directly ask me this weekend for a blog post, because, she said, she needed encouragement. So today, I would like to encourage you to do three small things that I think will bring some much-needed uplift to your day. They are small, easy, and effective.
1. First, read Ephesians 5:15-21.
"Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
2. Second, consider which of the things from the above scripture you can do today that would be wise in light of how dark, dreary, even evil these days might feel. I don't claim to know all the reasons why we are commanded to do what's listed here, but I can tell you there are clear benefits we can gain before from practicing them.
So first, make a plan. Walk carefully, Paul says (v. 15). That means, with care. If you are deep in despair or depression, it can be so hard to get out of the fog and actually do something. The first step I am suggesting is to carefully, mindfully, resolve to change something--and for now, make it just one thing. Anything grandiose may overwhelm you. Make the best use of your time (v. 16) in one small way today. Get that accomplishment under your belt, then let momentum from that spur you on. There are a number to choose from:
a. Understand what the will of the Lord is (v. 17). Get in the scripture and search for understanding. This never fails to bring focus and guidance for your day, even in very small doses, if that's all you can muster right now.
b. Do not turn to a source of comfort that is not going to aid you spiritually, and especially one that can harm you greatly (v. 18). Resist the temptation to wallow, or to use a comfort aid that is not God-approved. It will only hurt you in the long run, so steer clear. Paul has listed here several other clear methods listed here that will help you, and, believe it or not, even help others, through your tough times.
c. Reach out to someone, with spiritual encouragement. If you take the time to look up something that will encourage someone else... guess what? It will likely encourage you, too. As I'm writing this, I think of my childhood friend Polly sitting beside me at church, and the joy on her face when the song leader would choose "Sing and Be Happy." If the skies above you are gray, you are feeling so blue... She would look over at me and her obvious happiness would make me happy. I honestly can't imagine calling up a friend and singing to them, but maybe I should. I can certainly think up a few encouraging psalms and hymns though, and could pretty easily email or text the words to them. Finding them, writing them out, sending them, and then discussing them with a friend... really, how could that not be encouraging? Or having a cheerful tune or uplifting words stuck in my head the rest of the day and actually singing them aloud while I'm making lunch or driving to an appointment? It certainly beats wallowing in my thoughts right now, y'all.
d. Give thanks to God (v. 20). One of the most beneficial exercises I've begun to practice when I'm feeling low--and even when I'm not-- has become saying a prayer of complete thanks. No requests allowed. Just thankfulness and praise. When you really get down to brass tacks with the Lord and all He's done for you, despite current circumstances, it's probably not going to be a short prayer, and it can be a major mood-lifter and attitude-adjuster. You may be in a place where you have requests of God, and certainly He wants to hear them, but try doing a prayer that contains only thankfulness and gratitude and see if it helps. My hunch is, it will.
e. Call and see how someone else is doing--without revealing your current struggle. Trust me--someone else out there needs your help. This is an act of submission--putting down your desire to talk it out or vent and instead listening to and aiding someone else. Not only does it help them and glorify God, but it will be a few minutes spent not dwelling on whatever is plaguing you (sweet relief!) and may give you more perspective still on your problems. I am not at all saying that what you are dealing with is not legitimate and that you don't need help dealing with your own challenges. This is just one suggestion of many that might bring you comfort and get you out of whatever winter rut you may be stuck in.
3. Now take the one thing from the above list and do it. Just one. It can be small. But mindfully, carefully resolve today to do one thing different than what you have done so far this January--especially if what you've been doing hasn't been working for you. If you need to do more--do them! Do all of them if you can, whether it's today or over the next few days! The practice will bring you joy and help you through this time.
Show January who is boss. God is the boss, and you have strong guidance from Him on how to handle discouragement. So do it. And while you are, remember, spring is just 66 days away.
The time when I’m making dinner can be a vulnerable time for me, thought-wise. It’s often the first time after the events of the day where I am somewhat alone—the kids usually play and it’s just me and my thoughts while I cook. Often the activities of the day have left me somewhat tired and instead of having time to process the day I’m doing more work. Now, I love to cook, but this just seems to be a time where I’m able to be in my head, and that’s not always good.
Last night I got to thinking about Mary and how much I will miss her. And there was that jolt of “I can’t believe she’s gone,” which is so often followed by what seems like an almost electrical jolt of sadness to my system. It is the kind of thing that can sometimes be a diving board straight into despair.
But last night, just as I had that thought, it was hijacked by this most wonderful realization: “I am so thankful I got to know her.” Now, Mary knew a lot of people. A LOT. And because she loved people in general and because she wanted to serve God and them, I’d say she knew well many more people than most folks do. But in the grand scheme of the world, there are so many more people who didn’t get to know her. BUT I DID. And I am just so thankful that God allowed me some time with her. And it gave me a totally different perspective on what to think about during the many times she will be crossing my mind. “I miss her, but thank you, Lord, for letting me know her even just a little bit. I won’t waste that gift.”
I like to think I’m a pretty grateful person, but this was revelatory for me. For the rest of the night, I decided to consciously practice gratitude, just to see what other thoughts I could turn on their head.
I was making Breakfast-for-Dinner (yeah!), which involves my grandmother’s recipe for biscuits from scratch. I am pretty committed to cooking real food, but I gotta tell ya, cooking without convenience foods can be pretty…inconvenient. And while Breakfast-for-Dinner is pretty much the best thing in the world, I found myself looking at the bowl of flour and thinking of cleaning up bacon grease and cutting up watermelon. I felt a sigh coming on.
And then…”I’m so thankful I get to do this.” I’m so thankful I have the means to do this. That I have a husband who supports us willingly so I can have the time to do it. That he even has a job. That we have two little girls who clamor for the biscuit dough and help set the table. And on and on till the biscuits were in the oven and we were ready to eat and truly offer thanks for dinner. Grateful. I won’t waste that gift.
The other experiment came when I checked Facebook. One of the first things that came up was a picture of some people I know, having fun together. I hadn’t been invited. This is nothing new, and I don’t invite everyone I know to everything I do, nor do any of us have time to attend every gathering of every person we know every time they happen. And yet, I started to feel that feeling. Perhaps you know it? It’s the “Oh thanks Facebook for letting me know that other people are having fun together while I’m just here hanging out in my frumpy clothes with my phone” feeling. I hate discontentedness, and yet I could feel it coming on.
And then… I hijacked the thought. “I’m so thankful they got to be together.” And I meant it, too. Perhaps it was just what they needed at that time. It was certainly a group that doesn’t get to be together often. I know how that feels and it is so good! I’m thankful that they were together, and that they got to get closer. Those are all good things and frankly, how self-centered of me to be even remotely jealous. I have good times, too—a lot of them. There are times where the reality is, I am thankful not to be asked to do more things because I tend to over-commit and then get stressed out. I’m truly thankful for all of it. And I won’t waste that gift.
I intend to practice intentional gratitude again today. But going beyond gratitude, I intend to hijack as many negative thoughts as I can. We are in a war against Satan, who wants to steal our joy at every turn. This is a weapon against discontentedness and so many other joy-stealers that we are free to use, and it’s a powerful one. Strongholds: I am coming for you today.
3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5
Encouragement Spoken Here
"A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver." Proverbs 25:11