3 Beautiful Ways to Find Gratitude in Everyday Moments
I think most of us would agree that gratitude is something you can’t have enough of. Being a grateful person and fostering the art of expressing gratitude is something I try to have at the forefront for myself and for my children. But sometimes it can feel like we are fighting an uphill battle. We are constantly inundated with messages from within and without that would only have us see what is lacking—to question God’s goodness to us. It is a struggle that started in Eden and continues to gnaw at each and every one of us to this day.
Ingratitude and Joy Cannot Cohabitate
The enemy delights in watching this struggle and wants us to languish in misery over what we feel is lacking in our lives and to allow the gifts that God lavishes upon us to go unnoticed. Aside from those messages coming from within us because of our sinful nature, we are also bombarded with messages and images from the outside all day long about what we need in our lives to be whole and fulfilled. We need look no further than to the devices in our hands, social media feeds, and constant marketing campaigns targeted to tell us what the “good life” is and how to get it.
So, how do we endeavor to live a life of gratitude? Like many changes of apparent magnitude, progress often starts in small ways in the everyday moments and builds over time. Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts (Zondervan, 2011) seeks to get at the core of this very idea. She unpacks the subconscious reasons why we have a tendency to question God and his provision for us, and propels us toward acknowledging and naming the countless gifts he bestows upon us on a daily basis. All of this she ties to our quest for joy:
We only enter into the full life if our faith gives thanks. Because how else do we accept His free gift of salvation if not with thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives. Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our Yes! to His grace.” (Voskamp, p. 39)
The world, the flesh, and the devil remind us of our inadequacies, our lack of material things, our broken relationships. In my own life, I’ve noticed that the times I struggle most with contentment have been fueled by ingratitude and a focus on self. In those moments, I look at what I have, at what God has given me (much of the time, things that I have specifically asked for and desire in my life), and I resent them. I resent them because they drain me of my energy. I resent them because they are broken at times. I resent them because I cannot completely control them. Ingratitude is a metaphorical shaking of my fist at God for my lot in life. It is literally impossible to be joy-filled in this condition. Ingratitude and joy just cannot cohabitate.
I want to be intentional in my pursuit of joy—to better understand who I am in Christ and show gratitude for all that I receive from him. By thoughtfully acknowledging his gifts in my life, I hope to foster a heart of thanksgiving for God's gifts in myself and my children. Here are a few ways I have found to incorporate gratitude in the everyday moments:
1. Making a Gratitude List
Confession: I’ve started a half-dozen journals in my life and never made it past a few entries. I’m always taken by the romantic notion of journaling, but for some reason I can never stick to it. Life gets busy, time runs short, my creativity runs dry, and I lose interest. But a list I can do. Inspired by Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts list, I purchased an inexpensive journal and named it my Gratitude Journal. Every day, as I have time, I jot down statements of what I am thankful for that day. I keep a running tally, and it allows me to be intentional about naming the gifts God has granted that day without having to commit too much time to do it. Some days, between loads of laundry, I jot down one or two entries and other days maybe a dozen. It is a beautiful experience. It begins to look and sound like prayer. Beginning with gratitude, I am able to talk to God and name the tangible ways I see him at work in my life.
2. Showing Thanks with Handwritten Notes
My daughter just had her fourth birthday, so “we” sat down to write thank-you cards to her guests, which meant that I was about to write a dozen thank-you notes for her. For a split second I thought, “What’s the point? Do the recipients really care to get a hand-written card from me thanking them for coming to my daughter’s party?” Yet, I realized that wasn’t the point. The exercise was as much for my daughter as it was for them. We sat down together, went down the list of guests, and thanked them for attending her party and being kind enough to buy her a gift. We reflected on who had made the time to celebrate with us and how thoughtful it was that they took the time to select a gift they thought she would like. She even got to scribble her version of her name at the bottom.
Children go through life with their hands out. Being so dependent on others can leave them feeling entitled and ungrateful for all that is done for them. Finding small ways to teach our children the importance of showing gratitude can be powerful—and hopefully set good habits for them as they get older. I pray that these small seeds of gratitude blossom into a heart of joyous thankfulness for God’s goodness to us. Snail-mail thank-you notes may seem old-fashioned in today’s wired world, but they are always appreciated.
3. Serving Others
In my life it seems that service is closely related to gratitude and contentment. The process of taking my eyes off of myself and putting the focus on the needs of another tends to fill me with gratitude and joy. I have noticed the same for my daughters—involving them in opportunities to serve has given them more of an awareness of others who are in need. About six months ago, I began taking them once a month to an assisted living facility for the elderly nearby to visit for an hour. At first it seemed a bit forced. Showing kindness and extending yourself to a stranger is not something that comes naturally; it needs to be practiced. A week or two before our visit, when we have time at home, I have the girls make pictures or crafts to bring to their new friends. They bring books to read or games to play on their visits. Now, it is something my girls look forward to each month. They love spreading kindness, and the elderly we visit are so appreciative.
At times, life is too busy to do anything that requires scheduling ahead of time, so service might be making a meal for someone in need, opening my home for a coffee date to a new mom, or babysitting a friend’s child so she can get a haircut. These actions are so small in and of themselves and can seem like they don’t make a significant difference—but they do. This is how we can be the hands and feet of Jesus in the here and now. These acts of service shift our focus from ourselves to others and lead us down the path to a joy-filled life.
May God fill our homes with gratitude this Christmas season as we endeavor to set our gaze above to see his beauty and to praise Christ for everything we have in him.