"The thistle is a prickly flower, aye, but how it is sweetly worn."

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Spiritual Discipline of Thanks

If you know me well enough to be my facebook friend, you know this about me: I count my blessings every day.  They are numbered and listed in my status update every morning.  This has earned me a reputation as having a thankful heart.  But that's only partly true.

In June of 2012, I read 1000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  Next to the Bible, I would say that book has done more to change my life than any other.  It felt like she wrote that straight to my heart.  She talks about her struggle to understand God's grace and how He really is good.  She talks about her struggles with fear and anxiety, to the point of involving cutting and panic attacks and medicine.  My heart rejoiced as I read her struggles because I realized I wasn't the only one.  

At the time I read this book, I had had a daily intake of xanax for about 6 months.  In January of 2012, all the pressure and fear that came out of my marriage and divorce and carrying the entire world collided into days of sheer panic and sleeplessness.  I knew exactly how she felt because I was in the midst of that storm myself.  And so, I took every word she said to heart.  I drank in the ways counting gifts changed her life and prayed fervently that it would do the same to mine.  I don't even think I had finished reading the book before I bought a notebook and began to write gifts as I saw them.

1.  My toddler singing chips and salsa songs at breakfast
2.  Surprise opportunity to go to Toddler Art at the DMA
3.  A child's thank you
4.  Jude asking a baby if he was ok.
5.  Covered porches

These pictures are of us at toddler art.

I actually very clearly remember this day.  Jude and I had the best time together at that toddler art class. It was probably one of the first truly happy days I had had in a long time.  Over the last 18 months, I have continued to count my gifts.  Sometimes diligently, sometimes the list has fallen to the wayside.  Although whether or not I wrote them down, I noticed a direct shift in my thinking once I started that list.  Little things I wouldn't have noticed before began to take on significance.  I remember driving back from my sisters and noticing the way sunlight reflected in rainbows off of the speed limit sign and being joyful.  How many gifts and opportunities for thankfulness had I missed in my previous 28 years by not opening my eyes?

Fast forward to now and I'm still counting.  As of this moment, my last gift was #1339- Rising before the sun in my dark, quiet house to read my Bible.  Earlier this school year (August probably) I started posting the new bits of the list each day on facebook.  I have had numerous people tell me that it encourages them to read all that I am thankful for.  I'm thankful for that :)  I hope that it helps other people see the little things they have to be thankful for on a daily basis.  I hope that it reminds them that God is good and His grace is everywhere.

But I will tell you what that list does not mean.  It does not mean I am wonderously happy all the time.  I am not constantly skipping and singing through life.  Compared to 18 months ago- I am enormously more joyful, definitely.  It has changed my attitude in every way possible.  I see God in more and I stop to pray more.  It gets easier and easier every day to find the good.  When I first started this, it was hard.  I remember sitting in my classroom last year literally straining to find something I could be thankful for. I would eventually find something, but it wasn't easy.

I've since learned it isn't supposed to be.  Giving thanks has a reputation for being this magical Christian attitude that just bubbles forth because Christ is in you.  I think that perspective might be a lie.  Giving thanks is a discipline.  Like any exercise regiment, it is extremely difficult at first.  Giving thanks is much like training to run a marathon (not that I have ever done that).  You can only find a few things to be thankful for at first.  Or you are too easily distracted to remember to give thanks.  Some days you want to be anything but thankful.  But you choose to count gifts anyway.  Some days you heart is not really in it.  But you choose to count gifts and pray He change your heart.  

He does.  There has been a huge, huge attitude shift in me since I started counting gifts.  I notice how much more I smile.  I notice how evenly keeled I stay compared to before.  I notice how hurtful things don't control my mind anymore.  I truly do have more joy than I had before.  It's not perfect.  There are lots of days when I am still straining to count the gifts.  But it's nowhere near the strain of first beginning to count.

So to encourage you, it is possible to have a thankful heart.  It is possible to see God's grace in all things and give thanks in all circumstances.  But to do that is a spiritual discipline.  It doesn't come easy.  It requires you pressing through the tough days with thanks when you really want to complain.  It requires you letting go of the things that aren't what you wanted and thanking God because you know He's at work in this somehow.  

I pray that all people may continue to count their gifts far past Thanksgiving.  Not only does it change your life, it's really commanded in scripture.  The high road is never the easy road.  But I promise it is so worth it.


Susannah said...

What a blessing that book was in your life!!! I'm so glad God allowed you to find that book and learn more about Him in the process. Thanks so much for linking up!

Robyn B said...

i've heard so many good things about that book i'm about to have to read it myself! :)

you're so right that it's very important & comanded by God to be thankful year round. it's so easy to be thankful around the holidays, but much more tough (yet so important) to be thankful each day! thanks for sharing!

Sybil@PeaceitallTogether said...

Wow! I have never thought about thankfulness as a discipline before. I need to start thinking about it that way :) I have heard so many good things about that book, but I had no idea of her struggles with anxiety. Now that I know this, it is a book I definitely need to read. So glad you linked up!