I keep a list. It’s a “for-real,” pen-on-paper list. For as much as I love gadgets and technology, there is still something about putting ink on a sheet of paper. There’s something about the mechanics of moving your hand across a piece of paper, leaving behind a trail of letters that form words, and words that form - in this case - a list. A list of things that I’m thankful for.
I started keeping a list because being thankful isn’t always something that comes naturally for me, and they say that the best way to become better at something is to practice. This pen-on-paper list is a way for me to practice. In this area, I need a lot of practice.
To be honest, it’s not just that being thankful doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s really more that I’m terrible at it. I find that often, thankfulness is not the default orientation of my heart - even though it should be. I have a hard time focusing on being thankful for the things I have - the people, relationships, opportunities, and even the stuff. I often have a hard time seeing how incredibly blessed I really am.
I think that thankfulness, or gratitude, is a hard thing for a lot of us. I’ve tried to figure out why, but I keep coming back to this realization that the more we have, the more we notice what we don’t have, and the less we notice what we have.
Sometimes I think it’s a problem with the math. We sort of keep a running tally in our head of the things that we experience on a regular basis, and let’s face it - there are days when the math doesn’t work in our favor. There are definitely days when it feels like the count leans far in the direction of “life is a mess.”
We’ve all had those days. The kids won’t get up in the morning, and getting them out the door and on the school bus is a nightmare. The dishwasher and the washing machine break - in the same week. Or, it’s the middle of May and the refrigerator dies, and then the air conditioner goes out.
Sometimes work is miserable, or more accurately - someone at work is making things miserable. Your neighbor got a brand new truck, and you’re taking your 10 year old Volkswagen to the mechanic for the 4th time this year. Your co-worker is headed out on a 2 week cruise to Alaska while you’re stuck here on dry land, spending the next 14 days chained to your cubicle because the boss asked you to pick up the extra work.
You have a fight with your spouse, or your kids, or you have a fight with your spouse about the fight you just had with your kids. There’s never enough money, or time, to do the things you want to do, and it can be easy to be whatever the opposite of thankful is. Ungrateful. Angry. Bitter. Depressed.
That list can tally up pretty quickly, without even trying to keep track. It fills our minds, and our hearts, with a reminder that sometimes life is a mess - and sometimes it is. But if we could figure out a way to clear away some of the mess we could see that life is also beautiful. We don’t always see it, because we aren’t always looking, but it is. Instead, we're looking at the list of messes, and they add up fast. But if the problem is with the math, than that’s actually good news, because we can do something about the math. We just have to balance out the equation a little. That’s why I keep a list.
For me, I’ve found that the best way to be thankful for what God has done for me, is to, well, remind myself about what He has done. It might just be me, but when I look at a list of all of the things that God has given me, and all that He has done for me, I can’t help but find myself thankful. By the way, this is Biblical. Psalm 77 says:
"I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” (Psalm 77:11-12)
And David writes in Psalm 103:2-5 (MSG)
O my soul, bless God, don’t forget a single blessing!
He forgives your sins—every one.
He heals your diseases—every one.
He redeems you from hell—saves your life!
He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown.
He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal.
He renews your youth—you’re always young in his presence.
I don't know about you, but that looks a lot like a list. David went through a lot, and he had plenty of reasons to be bitter, and angry, and depressed, and ungrateful, but he wasn't. He wasn't because he made lists, and he remembered what God had done, and he was thankful. And when I start to add up the list of reasons to be thankful, it changes the orientation of my heart towards gratitude.
When I look back at where I’ve been, and how far He has brought me…
When I watch my wife interact with our children, or appreciate how she makes our house a home...
When I think about how fortunate I am to get to raise my 4 children...
When I look around at the people who love us, and have our back…
When my kids hug me before they leave the house to get on the bus...
When I look at the veggies growing in our little garden…
When I mow the lawn and think about how God has given us a beautiful place to live and grow as a family…
When I wake up our children in the morning and they are healthy and happy and whole… (okay, they're not always happy in the morning, but they wake up)!
When I stand on the sidelines at 4 soccer games a weekend and cheer…
When I see how God is shaping each of us according to His plan, and leading us through every adventure and every challenge...
I am not only thankful, I’m hopeful.
By the way, the fruit of gratitude is joy. That means, the more gratitude, or thankfulness, you have, the more joy you end up having. Joy is the result of choosing to be thankful. It's what happens when you orient your heart towards gratitude. Want more joy in your life? Be thankful. Want to be more thankful? Remind yourself what you have to be thankful for.
Start a list. Today.