December 17, 2020
I had a recent conversation with a student who told me that he “can’t think of anything to be grateful for because of everything that happened this year.”
Maybe you can relate with him.
I just can’t imagine the difficulties of those who were affected by Taal’s eruption, those who lost a loved one due to COVID-19, those who lost their homes because of the recent typhoons, or those who were hospitalized because of the virus. I also understand the difficulties of students who had to endure the sudden shift to online classes.
So yes, I agree: It’s really hard to be grateful this year.
Saying “thank you” for 2020 could feel like being forced to be thankful for a gift that you didn’t really like. It’s like saying the words out of mere lip service.
But gratitude can’t be forced. So how can we actually be thankful for this year despite everything that this year has brought upon us?
Exercising gratitude is a discipline.
John Ortberg, in his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted, talked about joy and gratitude as a discipline. Just like how you pursue sports, music, or weight loss, being grateful takes discipline! It may not come naturally or easily, but with the right discipline and intentionality, it can be learned.
Since December 1, our church has been doing this online activity called #25DaysofGratitude. The drill is simple: Post something that you are grateful for for 25 days.
Since the day it started, I never missed a single day of posting because it’s so much fun to do and it does something to my heart! It clears my clouded mind and heart. It reminds me that God is still good and that He will never forsake me.
I’ve also seen similar posts on Facebook and Instagram with pictures of their friends, family members, and church community, as well as some trivial things such as coffee or watching the sunrise.
I love how these posts give a breath of fresh air on my toxic social media newsfeed. And that’s when I realized, “Wow, that’s how gratitude makes a difference in our heart and in our perspective in life!”
Developing an attitude of gratitude takes discipline and intentionality. Because the first step is usually the hardest, we can start small in exercising gratitude.
You can start by recalling the simple things you received this year, like provision for your internet or a gadget that you can use for online classes. Then you may list down personal answered prayers like restoration of relationships, good health and healing for your family, or friends who helped you through this year.
As you enumerate the things that you are grateful for, you’ll see that you’re slowly learning to exercise gratitude. And just like how physical exercise gives warmth to the body, this particular exercise will give warmth to your heart.
Exercising gratitude increases our capacity for joy.
Most of the time, our tendency is to zoom in on what we don’t have or on what we’ve lost.
I remember counseling someone who always feels sad, anxious, or depressed. When I asked why, she told me that her mind is full of memories of failures, of things that she cannot accomplish, of people she disappointed, deadlines she didn’t meet, or prayers left unanswered.
John Ortberg said in the same book: “When we celebrate, we exercise our ability to see and feel goodness in the simplest gifts of God. We are able to take delight today in something we wouldn’t have even noticed yesterday. Our capacity for joy increases.”
When we reflect on what God has done and has given to us, it produces true contentment in our hearts.
As we rejoice in God, we do not just rejoice for the things He has done in the past and we do not just rejoice in anticipation of the things that He has yet to do. We rejoice in the now—with all its hardships and imperfections.
Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NLT)
Even in waiting, there are still a lot of things that God is doing. Even in waiting, we can be grateful.
May our discipline of gratitude not just depend on the breakthroughs and the victories. May our gratitude be anchored on God and on the certainty of His abiding presence in our lives.
Sure, we face difficulties and challenges every single day, but we can experience the kind of joy that no amount of difficult circumstances can take away when we remember the steadfast love of God.
In the end, the student who said he couldn’t find anything to be thankful for and the woman who always feels sad and anxious started to cultivate this discipline of exercising gratitude, and it made a whole lot of difference. Little by little, God changed their hearts and renewed their minds.
This is the power of gratitude: It may not change our situation, but it can truly change our lives.
May you experience God’s power at work in your life as you experience the power of gratitude.