Giving Thanks is an Act

ImageIt’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Lancaster today. The sun is warm, but the breeze reminds you that it’s Autumn. The peace of a Sunday rest floods our souls and spills out into the little row house that we call home.

Three months ago I didn’t feel this way. I was unhappy, alone, and ungrateful. But things have changed. I’ve grown up. I’ve gotten used to Lancaster. I’ve met people. I’ve moved. I’ve found a church. But mostly, I’m learning how to be thankful, content, and joyful – even when it’s not an ideal situation.

I’ve been talking a lot about this book, 1000 Gifts. If you haven’t read it, I highly suggest it. The book is written by a woman who spent much of her life bitterly resenting God since her young sister died in a tragic accident. The book is written in a poetic style (which I love) and she relates her journey to learning gratitude and thankfulness with so much grace and openness.

The way she picks apart different Bible verses and talks about learning thanksgiving – as an ACT, not a feeling – is eye-opening. Her friend challenged her to write a list of 1000 gifts, and in doing so she learned to give thanks. By actively keeping track of things that you are thankful for – the great, the small, the mundane, the important, etc – you are learning to have a thankful spirit and instilling that attitude in yourself. Maybe I’d heard things like this before, but I certainly wasn’t listening or truly understanding until now.

It’s like my ability to play the piano. I was great when I graduated from high school because I practiced semi-regularly. But after I went to college, I stopped actively practicing and played very infrequently. Now I don’t think I could play half the pieces I did in high school because I’m so out of practice.

It’s the same with giving thanks. I can read all the books in the world that talk about how I need to be more thankful. I can pray for a spirit of gratitude until I die. But without daily putting this into practice – I don’t know that I’d make much progress.  So I’m keeping track of my 1000 gifts.

Don’t get me wrong – while I can see that there has been much grace in my life since putting this into practice – I’m not all of a sudden “Miss Thankful”.  If spiritual growth were easy, we’d all be saints. Instead, I’ve had great days where I’ve thanked God for many, many blessings. Then I’ve had low days where I’ve been ungrateful and selfish. But I can tell that I’m gaining a lot from this book and counting my own gifts.

I’m only on #61, so I still have quite a ways to go. But I particularly liked a quote from this book: “I would nod and says straight-faced, ‘I’m thankful for everything.’ But in this counting gifts, to one thousand, more, I discover that slapping a sloppy brush of thanksgiving over everything in my life leaves me deeply thankful for very few things in my life.” How true is that for my life?  There are so many times that I’ve listed things that I am thankful for and only got to about 10: family, friends, Jesus, a home, food, clothing, education – you know, the big ones.

With this list I haven’t even listed most of the “big ones”, but instead focused on the small little gifts like:

Image#10: the smell of Lancaster farmland in the Fall
#13: cococaramel tea in a warm mug
#19: postcards from Salamanca
#25: blaring Bachata y Regeton next door celebrating Hispanic culture
#32: abundant fragrant mint in the garden
#59: mornings when I have time to drink my tea and do the dishes before work
#60: mornings when I don’t get tea and my roommates do the dishes

It’s funny how you realize how much you have to be thankful for when you start keeping track. And then how much contentment and joy you can find in counting these little things.

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