A Reflection for November 2017 by Richard Parrish

Being Thankful In Life

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“…be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.[1]” - Ephesians 5:18b-20 (NRSV)

 

REFLECT


Being thankful is a developed behavior. Ask any parent!
 
It’s a rare child who automatically — and naturally —  says thank you. We frequently encourage our children and grandchildren to say “thank you,” because expressing thanks is not only polite, it encourages a spirit of gratitude. That’s why we’re quick to remind our child or grandchild when we hand them a cookie or toy by asking them: “What do you say?”

 
Repeating an action develops a behavior. Good acts — performed regularly — shape good behavior. Harmful deeds practiced consistently produce bad behavior. We know we’ve had a breakthrough when the developed response of our child moves from “MINE” to “THANK YOU.”

 
The Bible reminds us: “…be thankful” (Col. 3:15); “abound in thanksgiving” (Col. 2:7); “[give] thanks to the Lord God at all times, and for everything…” (Eph. 5:20). The apostle Paul’s reminders were for individuals — like us — who lived in evil and challenging times. He admonishes us to develop and maintain a spirit of thanksgiving; especially “because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16). He understands:

 
Cultivating a discipline of thanksgiving — even when life is hard — encourages hope.
 
We’re more inclined to express thankfulness when we receive what we want and when life is going our way. However, “life” does not always accommodate our desires. Have you ever wondered: Why investment portfolios don’t have a continual upward “trend-line”? Or, why it is that when you make the last payment on your car, the engine breaks down? Or, why a severe illness threatens the life of a loved-one — too young to face death? The reality is: Curve-balls are typical in life.

 
For years, psychologists have shown how life satisfaction is connected with gratefulness. Mental health and wellness author, Judy Belmont, M.S., LPC writes: “Countless research findings show that gratefulness and life satisfaction go hand in hand. Those who tend to be more grateful rather than bitter are generally more positive, more satisfied with their lives, and will be able to see the silver lining even on cloudy days.”

 
American essayist, lecturer, and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “[One should] cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously.” Henry Ward Beecher envisions how the discipline of thanksgiving produces beauty in one’s life when he writes: “Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul.” And…

 
 
We all could benefit by discovering a little beauty in the midst of evil days
and heart-wrenching calamities.
 
 
A spirit of gratitude is a developed attribute: A quality of being thankful.  So, how can we train our self to emulate that characteristic authentically? Here are a few suggestions.

 
Be aware of distractions.

 
The growing awareness of evil in our world, combined with the harshness of unexpected trials, can easily distract us from practicing thankfulness.

 
It’s easy to find reasons to be un-thankful when evil acts impact the lives of the innocent, or when natural disasters destroy homes and lives. We’re more inclined to be “thankless” when we witness the behavior of our leaders that is less exemplary than our children. The false message society purports — that our identity is in what we do, and our acceptability determined by what we have — encourages us to see our glass as half-empty rather than half-full.

 
Don’t avoid the negative.

 
Although it’s ok to take a recess from the news, thankful people do not shy away from the negative. Learning to embrace challenges and setbacks is part of life’s journey. Strength grows in difficulty; not through success. It’s when we’re at a loss of what to do, that we’re prone to look to God. When faced with apparent impossibilities, thankful people recall and retell the stories of how God intervened in their life — and find strength from the stories of God’s faithfulness to others.  That’s what rekindles hope!  

 
Exercise your “gratitude muscle.”

 
I recall an article written by Geoffrey James. He wrote of how gratitude is “an emotional muscle.” Like any muscle, without regular exercise, it is prone to wither. Failure to use our “gratitude muscle” encourages a sense of hopelessness.

 
As the youngest child in my home, it was easy for me to complain to my mother about how unfair my older siblings treated me. In her wisdom, rather than allow me to dive into my “this-is-so unfair-I’ve-been-done-wrong” speech, my mother would stop me. “Before you tell me what’s wrong with your brother, I want you to list three things you like about him.”

 
She was giving me a practical way to exercise my “gratitude muscle.” I admit, there were times when I had to hold my complaint and think hard to find three things I liked about my brothers. However, the discipline to be thankful — when my perception was that life wasn’t fair, and my brothers were wrong — instilled in me a practice that inspires hope, even when life is hard.

 
Keep a Gratitude Journal.

 
When we write down things that we are thankful for it reinforces positive thoughts — something particularly helpful as the brain tends to focus on what goes wrong naturally.
When we put our praise to paper, it helps us remember God’s faithfulness when tempted by distractions or we feel alone.
Research shows that writing down our thankfulness can lead to a multitude of wellness benefits.

 
Use Social Media Wisely

 
Aside from the addictive attraction that robs us of time, it’s easy to get sucked into the negative banter. Not everything shared on social media is accurate. Every post I make on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media technology has the potential of encouraging or discouraging someone. I want to make sure that I’m a dispenser of hope, not despair.

 
In the United States, every November we have a day set aside to give thanks. We’re encouraged to stop and give thanks for our blessings. That’s a good thing. However, cultivating a spirit of thanksgiving requires more than one day a year. Being a thankful person is a developed behavior that requires consistent practice.
 



[1]
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Eph 5:15–20.
 
 

RESPOND


     •     What’s my view of my world? Am I inclined to see it through a negative or positive filter?
     •     What are five things, for which I’m grateful?
     •     How might I adjust my social media habits to become a dispenser of hope?
     •     Do others see me as a thankful person?
     •     What exercises are necessary to help me be a thankful person?