Here it comes! Can you feel the change of seasons? We are now in the season of the year where family gatherings will be happening. How does that feel? How is it to have ideals being placed around us in media, shopping, friends with what seem like ideal families from the outside, etc. How do we stay grounded, honest, showing love and gratitude even when there are painful things that could captivate our attention?
How can we find the strength to get our mind to stop and refocus in a balanced way that is grounded in our faith and knowledge that we are in this with God?
We can move from the endless list of the things we have no ability to change and get moving in ways where we do have the power to act. We can practice gratitude in conversation with God and others. It is in practice we experience the change that gratitude can make in our life. Gratitude can allow us an increased ability to see our patterns that can focus us on things that drain the joy of life. Gratitude offers an invitation to go deeper in our faith.
Do I really know that God loves me? That God can hold everything, including the hard stuff, with me. Then I can have the room in my life and heart to take time for gratitude. The negative that is lurking has the power to pull us downstream in its current. It’s like the undercurrent running beneath the surface that can pull you miles off track. I live at the beach and teaching my son about a rip current was beach life 101. Our brain thinks it is doing us a favor, pointing out the painful stuff. It is trying to protect us from more pain and prevent possible harm. It is not that we live with rose colored glasses when we engage gratitude, it’s a matter of balance. It’s also an opportunity to move from a micro focus to a macro lens. It allows us the ability to see the big picture. We can train our brains and emotional habits, just like any other muscle in our body. A fit emotional brain is a beautiful thing. It just lets us live our day more alive in all that is going on, not missing out on all the good and blessings we can become numb to.
With Thanksgiving right around the corner I think it’s the perfect time to think about gratitude. The image of a salmon swimming upstream is helpful to illustrate the kind of moving “against the flow” that gratitude offers. I can choose to stop negativity from telling the whole story, often triggered by control, fear, worry and anger. Gratitude can offer a place to notice and focus on what is good, right and just. As we account for the goodness that surrounds us we bring it into focus the bigger image of our real life. It is also an opportunity to realize more deeply the needs, cares and worries we have and to surrender them into the care of God. This can increase our trust and belief of God’s loving care for us and the circumstances around us.
Paul ends his letter to the Philippians with thanks to God and gratitude to the Philippians for their care and generosity. It is such a beautiful picture of this truth. Philippians 4:4-20
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. 10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 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, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Using a gratitude journal is a wonderful exercise to stop and count our blessings. I made a simple journal page that you may find useful in your life. I am also making it a point to let the people I am thankful for actually know it. That is so life giving. I often overlook letting those who I am thankful for know how I feel.
Maybe you can join me in becoming more aware of all we have to be thankful for this month. I am not talking about a shallow gratitude that is used to place magical thinking over difficult circumstances. It is the work of gratitude to not allow the difficult circumstances we all face to be the only thing we see, feel and hear. I am encouraged by finding in my gratitude the presence of God. I am becoming more able to realign my mind, body and heart into a right balance of what is really true in the bigger picture, not unlike the salmon that passionately swim upstream.