The Gratitude Factor

It feels like a conspiracy of some sort. A Holy Spirit conspiracy, that is. The good kind. Everywhere I look, I am surrounded by reminders of the immense value of gratitude—reminders of my need to foster a grateful heart.

It started when I turned the calendar to a new month: November. November has always been my month of thanks-giving. Years ago when I led a local Mom to Mom group, November was my month for writing each Titus 2 leader a note highlighting particular things about her for which I was grateful. I was amazed every year at how good it felt to do that. It was such a reminder of God’s many blessings in giving us the leaders we had. It was also a reminder of the crazy, wonderful, diverse gifts of the Body of Christ. I love how different we all are!

Yet I seem to need November. Maybe it’s because I can be prone to self-pity—especially in regard to how far away all our kids and grandkids live. It seems to hit me the hardest when I’ve just returned from a visit with some of them. Woody and I just got back from a great weekend with Bengt (4) and Hannah (6 months) and Kelly (their mom) in North Carolina and even got to talk with Lars (their dad) from Afghanistan. I am so grateful—I really am.

But we did have to come home. And home (in Wisconsin) is a long way from North Carolina—and an even longer way from Afghanistan! So this week was somehow lonelier than usual. I could feel a pity party coming on.

Funny, isn’t it, how easily I forget how much I have to be thankful for (wonderful kids and grandkids, for example—and the opportunity to see them fairly often).

As I said, I need November. And God, it seems, had arranged more reminders for me this week. There’s my sign in the kitchen, beautifully done by a Mom to Mom mom: It says simply “Give thanks.” And it reminds me of a sign I read about in a missionary’s home which put it this way: “Try giving thanks.” Hmmm. Good idea!

God’s reminders kept coming to me—often from the most unsuspected places. I was working on a talk about “Three Gifts That Keep on Giving.” Guess what one of those is: a thankful heart. Then, in preparing for a Bible study on Colossians, what should I find but Paul talking about “overflowing with thanks.” Paul, of all people. Writing as a prisoner, probably chained 24/7 to a Roman guard. According to one commentator, Paul uses that word translated “overflowing” some 26 times.

And he didn’t even have grandchildren!

It seems, according to Paul—and also in my own experience—that a thankful heart leads to joy. The deep-down kind of joy that transcends circumstances. The kind you can feel even on the lonely days, the overwhelmed days, the “down” days.

I’ve seen it happen in my own life. Here’s one way it works: when I begin to feel sad, lonely, or disappointed, or when I am overcome with missing my mom, or when I am feeling way too far away from family and friends, or when I feel myself letting worry overtake prayer (instead of the other way around), then I take a “sad-glad” walk. For the first part of the walk, I tell God all the things I am sad about. You’d be surprised at what a good listener He is. And very patient! Then I make the choice to tell Him all the things I am thankful for. I am amazed every time how long that list is. It often becomes a very long walk!

Now this may seem backward to you. And theologically speaking, I think it is. We really should begin with praise and thanksgiving. But somehow, on certain days, I find that venting—getting all that sadness out—frees me up to truly rejoice in the many blessings God has given me. And how many there are.

It’s like the old hymn my mom used to play so beautifully: “Count Your Blessings.” It’s true, isn’t it? “Count your blessings, name them one by one; and it will surprise you what the Lord has done!” It always does—surprise me, that is.

You can see why I need November.