Growing a Gratefulness Muscle – Grace Upon Grace

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In the midst of this season when we are reminded to Give Thanks, I wonder if some of us are out of practice. As we wrap up the beauty of autumn and set our faces toward winter, it may be asking too much for some of us to be grateful after a year like 2021. Our ability to strengthen our gratefulness muscle has missed too many opportunities.

Like 2020, this year has been difficult for many. Wave after wave of mandates, lost jobs, inflation, and Covid-19 illness or deaths has burdened every family in one way or another. Add to that the families that represent the depression, abuse and addiction numbers, which have skyrocketed since the pandemic began…people are feeling very discouraged.

I wonder though, can we truly not find anything for which to be grateful?

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Gratitude and Your Health

The Bible has had a great deal to say about being thankful for a very long time. However, in recent years, science discovered what God has known since time began. Being grateful is beneficial to our minds and bodies. Gratitude protects us against depression, anxiety and stress, all of which endanger us for heart disease.

“Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress,” write Robert A. Emmons, Phd., and Michael E. McCullough, Phd., who have done research on the role gratitude plays in a person’s attitude and well-being. Emmons, who is described as “the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude,” also writes on how gratitude can improve a person’s ability to cope with stress.

In addition, Emmons said that numerous studies have revealed that people who have a grateful attitude recover more quickly from incidents of serious trauma, suffering or adversity. In 2015, Dr Emmons reported:

It [gratitude] can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep. Gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide,” he said.
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The Battle Between Gratefulness & Negativity

You know people who always see the proverbial glass half-empty. They drive you mad if you are a glass half-full person.

True confessions: I can be that half-empty person.

Usually, we’re formed at an early age by a hyper-critical parent or other caregiver. Or, we had a fairly dysfunctional home and we were always waiting for the other shoe to fall. It often did. Therefore, in order to protect ourselves emotionally, we unconsciously trained ourselves to prepare for the worst.

If it didn’t happen – great! Nice surprise! If it did happen…well, it’s what we expected.

However, we do not have to remain in that negative, critical state for our entire lives. It IS possible to change, albeit it takes Jesus and a lot of purposeful work, often with a therapist. By His grace, God created these wonderful brains that can be retrained and rewired.

What a glorious gift.

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Building Your Gratefulness Muscle

Ten years ago, Christian author and speaker, Ann Voskamp, wrote a book by called One Thousand Gifts. In it, she frankly shared her struggle with depression. There were seasons of not wanting to live, despite being a young mother of several children. One night, Voskamp had a strikingly realistic dream about receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis.

It shook her deeply. By God’s grace, she gradually began to realize that each day held many things for which to be thankful.

I think of…all the mysteries I have refused, refused, to let nourish me…I wonder too…if the losses that puncture our world, our own emptiness, might actually become places to see. To see God…But how? How do we choose to allow the holes to become seeing-through-to-God places? To more-God places? How do I give up resentment for gratitude, gnawing anger for spilling joy? Self-focus for God-communion. To fully live, to live full of grace and joy and all that is beauty eternal. It is possible, wildly [possible].

Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, 10th Anniversary Edition

Ann began a notebook to write down 1,000 things she was grateful for. And it changed her life.

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Materialism – the Enemy of Gratefulness

Primarily Western cultures are seduced by materialism or never enough mentality. We have a constant barrage of temptations splashing across our screens telling us you want this or you need that. Billboards on the highway, commercials at the theater or on television all conspire to urge us to desire more.

In fact, the seed to acquire more begins at a young age. Children are targeted during their cartoons and children’s shows. Toy ads are sent out six to eight weeks before Christmas to remind them of what they DON’T have. Sadly, we are soaked in the seduction of wanting from cradle to grave.

As a result, giving genuine thanks requires a paradigm shift in attitude for most of us. Otherwise, our thanksgiving tends to become lip service.

These people [a]draw near to Me with their mouth,
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.

Matthew 15:8, NKJV
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Giving Genuine Thanks, Creating Muscle Memory

In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

I Thessalonians 5:18, NKJV

These words, as written on a page, appear so simple. However, everything involves not only the beauty and joys of life. When one is living in the midst of piercing heartbreak, suffered immensely from abuse or trauma, or received a terminal diagnosis, giving thanks isn’t the initial response…or perhaps any part of a response you have.

And yet…it is God’s will in Christ Jesus for us. Why? Because our Father is worthy of our gratitude. Furthermore, He knows gratefulness is good for the soul and body.

The next verse says, Do not quench the Spirit.

Like Ann Voskamp, I tremble when I consider the numerous times I have quenched God’s Spirit and missed opportunities for Him to work through painful circumstances. By refusing to trust God’s goodness and faithfulness, I/we miss His divine work in the moment of our greatest need.

But God, rich in mercy (Ephesians 2:4,) has compassion on us. He forgives and restores us.

Have mercy upon me, O God,

According to Your lovingkindness;

According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,

Blot out my transgressions.

Psalm 51:1, NKJV

The Lord is gracious and full of compassion,

Slow to anger and great in mercy.

The Lord is good to all,

And His tender mercies are over all His works.

Psalm 145:8-9, NKJV
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And Finally – Give Thanks

Dear sisters, I hope you have seen that it is good for us to be grateful people. Throughout the Bible, God has commanded us to be so, not because He is like earthly, egotistic emperors or dictators. He IS worthy of our praise and thanksgiving. It is His will for us to give thanks to Him.

Moreover, out of His abundant wisdom, our Father knows that a thankful person is a healthier, more joyful person, too.

Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!

For His mercy endures forever.

Psalm 136:1, NKJV

Happy Thanks-Giving Season…and Happy giving thanks for the rest of our lives.

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