Movie watching has always been a significant bonding activity in my family. Usually, we cuddle up with cozy blankets and big bowls of popcorn. We laugh, we cry, we cover our eyes at scary parts, we rejoice with the heroes, and we dance during the credits. Just about always. So when we sat down to watch Finding Nemo, that was the scene.
In one particularly enjoyable part of the Disney flick, two fish find themselves in a terrifying predicament. As the fish flop around frantically on an oceanside dock, some seagulls see the fish and don’t waste any time attempting to claim their prey. “Mine” says one, “Mine” says another, and more pipe in until it’s a constant chorus of “Mine, mine, mine, mine!” Soon enough, a great number of seagulls are fighting each other for a chance to get at the most desirable thing in the moment. I’ll let you check the film out for yourself to discover what happens next, but that part of the movie got me thinking. Does this scenario sound familiar to you? I don’t know about you, but it reminds me of Black Friday.
On the day after we count our blessings and thank God for his provision, the people of our culture practically run over each other to get to the biggest sale or the newest item. I’m not saying that shopping strategically on the best sale day of the year is a bad thing. In fact, it’s strategic and potentially the most practical choice for acquiring store-bought Christmas gifts. I am saying, however, that this trend might suggest that our culture is more likely to want more and less likely to be continually grateful for the things we already have.
Why should we be thankful?
In a world that is wrecked with disaster, where broken people do horrible things to each other, and darkness seems to be looming constantly, it is tempting to throw in the towel and forget any blessings that we do have. But when your focus is entirely on what you do not have, you’ll miss the joy of what you do have. David Steindl-Rast said, “It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” When we thank God for the blessings we see, we will experience the beauty of having them. In his many letters to the churches, Paul instructs believers to thank God without ceasing for the hope they have in him and for the many blessings he has given them, even in the midst of terrible pain and hardship. Paul says that Christ will give us the strength to be thankful in any circumstance (Philippians 4:4-13).
Gratitude is a an attitude that is made up of a thousand daily choices to thank God and others. Here are some ways I have been learning to develop and maintain gratitude in my own life:
5 Ways to maintain gratitude
1. Make a list of things you’re thankful for, and add to it every day
I try to add three new things to my list every night. There are some nights–usually during especially difficult times or when I am very exhausted–that I’ve listed things like “the pen I’m writing with” as my object of gratitude. Other times I have enough energy to elaborate on my day, and occasionally I add more than three things into my list. If you are not a writer, tell someone what you are thankful for each day.
2. Ask others “What are you thankful for today?”
When I ask this question, I’m often surprised by the things my friends and family appreciate. These times act as reminders to me to be thankful for things I might not have considered before that conversation. One friend texts me three things she is thankful for every day. The perspective I receive from such a simple act is one of the things for which I am the most grateful this year!
3. Say “Thank you, Jesus” out loud every single morning
When I begin my day with a statement of thankfulness, I find that I’m much more likely to continue in that line of thinking throughout the day.
4. Consider the plight of people who are less fortunate
Sometimes, in order to realize your blessings, it’s helpful to look actively around you for people who have less financially, physically, or relationally than you do. * This one is tricky, because it can be easy to fall into negative comparison and false humility. (Luke 18:9-14). Comparison KILLS community, and all sorts of lovely things. Try to avoid feeling bad that you have something someone else could have, but rather be thankful and do not take for granted the blessings you do hold in your hands.
5. Help others
It’s been said before, and I’ll say it again, that there are few things more life-giving than serving someone else. When you see someone who is less fortunate, think about what you could physically do to care for them and take action. It doesn’t have to be magnanimous. It’s not always structured. Anyone can participate. It’s not always easy to help, but if your eyes and ears open to the people around you, if you search for what someone might need, you can often find a way to help. Here are some examples:
- Share a kind word
- Open a door
- Give a meal (take food, give a gift card, or invite someone into your home)
- Offer a listening ear
- Send a “thinking of you” text
- Pay for the person ahead of you in line
- Mail encouragements
- Donate good quality items to a shelter
- Visit people in a nursing home
- Rake leaves/shovel sidewalks/mow the lawn
Pray for gratitude
When you are in need of anything, be it comfort or healing or provision, God is the best place to go. He is the source of every good thing. So why not go ahead and ask Him for an attitude of gratitude?
Helping Others with prayer
I believe that prayer is the most powerful way to help anyone. Our creator, savior, and healer loves us more than we could even begin to imagine. He loves you. He loves the person you love. He does not bring shame, but instead calls us up to comfort, healing, and hope. He can and does provide for us these things, and also gives them freely.
BUT, there is a difference between honestly talking and listening to the Lord on someone’s behalf, and making a trite statement about prayer. I’m saying this because I have been a culprit of the latter. I have said, “I will pray for you,” and then forgotten in the business of my day. I have gone a bit further to utter a prayer, “Lord, please help…” but have not listened for an encouragement or a way I might be earthly, practical, physical, tangible help. On the other hand, I have also spent time listening on behalf of my friends and been able to offer them encouragement in a way that fit their situation and ministered to their heart deeply and intentionally.
So, YES, absolutely pray for your friends. And YES, listen for how you might help. And YES, do it. Show up for yourself, show up for your friends.
“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow” – Melody Beattie
What ways have you found to
develop and maintain gratitude in your own life?
Please share in the comments below.
* Feature Photo by Matteo Fusco on Unsplash