‘Tis the season … for leaves turning colors, pumpkin patches to be raided, bundles of cornstalks and bales of straw and pots of mums to be displayed, gift shopping lists to be checked off, family gatherings and holiday parties to be scheduled …. and the ‘thankful’ challenges to be conquered. I’ve seen challenges on social media to post something we are thankful for each day. I saw a couple ‘thankful trees’; a tree trunk on the wall where leaves are added each day, each one listing something appreciated. I have heard about gratitude journals, ‘thank you’ jars … the list goes on. All of these encouragements for gratitude are wonderful, hopeful, and ……. tragic. Yes, I said it. Tragic. In that we have a season for gratitude. In that we need the reminders, the challenges, to be thankful. Tragic that we have a culture and a mind-set of entitlement so extreme that we whine, complain and moan eleven months out of the year and then, in the name of tradition, we reflect on gratitude for a month. I will qualify, before I continue whining about complaining, that I am guilty of this as well. I have made progress. A lot of progress. I am still not where I want to be.
We are told in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Notice the word ‘always’ – not ‘every November’ – but ‘always’. How’s that for a thankfulness challenge? The good news for those participating in the one of the many challenges going around this month – it is said that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. By the end of the month, you will have formed the habit of being grateful every day. The next step is ‘in all circumstances’. Now that, my friend, it where it gets really tough. It is possible to express gratitude for something everyday and still complain about everything else.
I have been reflecting on this whole concept of thanksgiving challenges and on my process. I have realized that, while being somewhat mindful and occasionally intentional about gratitude, I have not been consistent about renewing my mind. I have not made deliberate choices to stop complaining and start rejoicing. I have been engaging in a sort of thankfulness challenge, but I have been very casual and sporadic about it. It is time to get focused. What better time than now, while the thankfulness challenges are abundant, to challenge ourselves to cultivate a lifestyle of gratitude. Let’s begin to be intentional about renewing our minds to be rejoicing always and giving thanks in all circumstances. Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Philippians 2:14-16 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. What do you find yourself grumbling about? Your car? Your job? Your house? Your neighbors? Your church? Not finding a close parking spot? Etc? Now I’m about to sound like your grandpa who walked five miles to school uphill both ways in ten feet of snow year round with no shoes. What ever you’re grumbling about, chances are – it could be worse. Chances are – it has been worse. EVEN IF you are at one of the lowest, or THE lowest point in your life – rejoice about this. Christ has already been there ahead of you. And now He has gone on ahead of you to prepare a place for you. What ever your circumstance, it is temporary. I do not say this lightly. I’ve been in some incredibly hard places, some of them for a long time. The Lord is faithful. He has brought me out of all of it and grown me in the process. He has never given up on me. When I catch myself grumbling, whining and complaining, I remind myself what I’ve come out of and who I was without Christ. And I remind myself where He’s taking me. I know that when my focus is on the Lord, it is easy for me to see an endless list of things to be thankful for. It also makes the things of this world seem trivial in comparison.When I am remembering what He has done, I am overwhelmed with gratitude to the point that I forget everything else I was tempted to moan about.
So here’s the challenge. Let’s keep the grateful going. There is some brain science that can help us out. There is a part of your brain called the reticular activator. It is alert all the time and controls what external stimuli makes it into your conscious thought. You can choose what your RA is wired to pick up. When you begin to focus on finding things to appreciate, your RA will hone in on those things. The more you absorb, the more grateful you will become. As you express your gratitude, it reinforces your focus. It renews your mind and transforms your life. Then one day, you realize, you have developed a lifestyle of thankfulness. And you will have one more thing to be thankful for.
Are you up for the challenge? Do you have some things you’ve done that have cultivated a lifestyle of thankfulness? I would love to hear from you.