When we are frustrated or upset we gripe and moan. We tell and retell our story to everyone who will listen. We post it on Facebook and sometimes when we really let it get to us we let it penetrate every fiber of our existence. Our breathing changes, our thoughts change, our moods change. It affects our speech patterns, our patience. We alter our plans because now we don't feel like doing the thing we were going to do before we got angry. (Maybe you are picking up that I have some personal experience with this? You'd be right;)
It occurred to me yesterday as I found myself in a moment of total and complete thankfulness how very differently we approach these two polar opposite emotions.
Negative emotions hit us but so often they linger. Most often they infect and travel to every area of our physical body and spiritual being. Whereas gratefulness so often exists only in flashes. Moments of peace and joy in between the irritations of the world.
I've been working hard on mindfulness, intentional living and flipping the script on this pattern. It's not easy.
Anger is easy, so easy. Just sitting at my desk I can look around and find a dozen things to be annoyed about. Items used on my desk that weren't put away (again!) A coat and shoes left out. A device not put back on the charger, a window not closed snuggly. And don't even think about logging on to social media. With a flick of your scrolling thumb you can find 10 things to make your blood boil.
Those external factors are not impacting my peace anymore. They are external and they stay that way. They aren't allowed into the sanctuary of my heart.
I'm choosing not to poison the love and light of Christ that resides in the sanctuary of my heart. I choose instead to nourish His love with gratitude.
A long time ago I read a book, Simple Abundance and began a journey of gratitude. Over the years I've done gratitude journals, prayer and bible studies on the topic. I believe the power of gratitude can overcome a troubled life. But it wasn't until I began to focus on Abundant Gratitude that I felt the tide turn and my deeply held anger begin to dissipate.
We manage anger in a bizarre way I think, we fuel, feed and embrace it. We share it and spew it on others. Those unfortunate enough to be driving too slowly in front of us or walking too slowly exactly where we need to be. But gratitude, gratitude we whisper in prayers, we experience with gentle sighs and we sit quietly with it.
Anger and frustration we share with everyone around us,
but we keep gratitude all to ourselves.
Abundant Gratitude is different and what a learning process it is for me to learn to walk in life this way. Abundant Gratitude is active. It's reminding people how wonderful they are to us. It's being thankful for hundreds of simple acts of service and love the people in our lives offer every day. It's NOTICING. We take so much for granted in this life. SO MUCH.
Noticing what people have done for us is humbling. When you begin to notice how much you need others you recognize your interdependence with them. For many people that is an incredibly uncomfortable place to be. It means, you owe them. It means they have something on you! It means there may be expectations of you and your behavior. And who wants that? If there are expectations, there can be failure.
We can try to avoid it, we can dance around it. But the only path to peace and happiness is growing in humility and growing in love. We can only grow in love when we grow in gratitude.
Abundant Gratitude isn't about what you think. It's not enough to think grateful thoughts. It's not enough to recognize them. That's Gratitude for Dummies but hey it's a start. Gratitude that grows you, stretches you, is gratitude that is lived in abundance and it's sort of the Master's Program for appreciation. Here are four ways you can increase gratitude in your family:
We must learn to speak gratitude over the people in our lives. Not only for what they do but for who they are. I have children with hearts for service. They are the most willing of helpers. I speak this over them frequently. I tell them how thankful I am for their precious and tender hearts. I will say to them, how happy I am to know that there are people like them in the world.
My gratitude becomes an affirmation for them, validation. It waters their soul as it waters mine. We speak love in our home. We never hang up the phone without, "I love you" never. So ingrained in our family is love that even when we are calling back and forth 5 times in 20 minutes working out directions or a forgotten grocery list, each brief exchange ends in "love you". I tell my closest friends I love them on the phone. I am grateful for their friendship and I speak that to them by saying I love them. It's not enough to feel grateful. We must speak it.
Acts of Love in Return
So many acts of service are offered to us each day, particularly by the people we love and live with each day. Small acts of kindness build love and gratitude into a family. Moms. We love to care for our families. We do. Sometimes we feel unappreciated for all that we do. Our families oftentimes aren't able to connect the dots. They grow accustomed to all we do and forget that we do it out of love that is given and taken in our family. It helps to grow ourselves and our children in a gratitude that includes appreciation for these acts of service. Let me give you an example.
As we were all getting ready for bed, I asked my son to unload the dishes. He asked if he could do it the morning, but I knew I wanted to start baking and get soup on early and it would really help me if he'd unload before bed. (Normally he unloads first thing in the morning). He did this for me, without complaint. The next morning, I made him eggs and bacon and he was of course very pleased. I mean, bacon! c'mon. But when I brought his plate to the table I said, "I wanted to say a special thank you for unloading the dishes for me last night. It made my morning much easier. You are so good to help me son." And I kissed his crazy bed head. He hugged me and said it was no problem.
Our daughter has watched my husband bring me flowers for all of her life. When she was very small (5 or 6) she began to ask where her flowers were? So from time to time he would bring her flowers too. I also started to buy her flowers to let her know how much I appreciated her. As the only girl she was a great help to me over the years. Speaking gratitude over her and the boys and returning acts of love with acts of love trains them to give love but also to expect it in their relationships. As she prepares for marriage this fall she has chosen the most wonderful man. He exemplifies this love and is truly her intended spouse.
Gratitude You Can Feel
I believe this world is starving to death, spiritual death. Starving for physical acts of true, edifying, affirming love. Starving to see Christ and feel His loving arms around them. Starving to see His mercy in someone's eyes. We make the world a better place when we raise people who can go out and be this light.
As a young mom I read something that would shape my journey of motherhood. It said "every time you see your children, your face should light up". You should ALWAYS smile. It seemed elementary to me as I contemplated it.
When they enter a room and look at me, the woman who brought them into the world, they should always see the tremendous joy I felt when I met them for the first time.
We hug a lot in our home. There are morning hugs, evening hugs, kitchen hugs, couch hugs, what did you just bake hugs, how come she is getting a hug, hugs. There are kisses and tickles of all the grown people. There is rubbing my oldest son's newly shaved head. There are smiles, silly faces and more than a few annoying habits like grabbing someone's toes and popping them. (Which is mom's least favorite expression btw) When you come into our home, I hug you. I hug you because I am so grateful that you have come. I am so grateful that you are in my life. I am so grateful to see you and spend time with you.
We laugh often. The kind of laughter that shakes the rafters. My husbands laughter is contagious. He laughs big and with his entire heart and this great big laugh has been a permission for each of the children to laugh big too. It helps that they all have a sense of humor that makes them a magnet in a group.
People are starving for touch in this world. When my server has taken care of me in a busy restaurant I will touch her hand, make eye contact and say thank you for taking such good care of us tonight. Breaking the bubble changes everything. People are physically moved and you connect on a different level with another human being. Making eye contact and speaking gratitude over strangers builds a wall of love in your chest that we need so desperately to combat the divisions and hatred the world would have us buried beneath. It takes a bit of bravery if that's not a normal way of being in the world but it will change your life.
We approach every single event from our own unique perspective. It's ours alone and no one else has the ability to alter it in the slightest. How we process events, negative ones particularly, can have a life changing impact on our heart. A flat tire is a nuisance. It can be frightening on the interstate. It costs money. It delays us. It is a problem. I get all that. Growing in gratitude though, means you begin to see what previously you did not. You can see what was always there. A flat tire may have spared your life. The delay may have freed you for another purpose. Maybe something even though was not your priority at that moment, may have served greater priorities. The tow truck driver may be someone who is meant to be in your path. A motorist who stops to help you may have needed to feel useful and do something nice for a stranger. People random strangers may have offered prayers to you as they passed and thought, "I'm glad that wasn't me today".
Changing our perspective doesn't magically remove annoying events but it filters and processes them in a way that grows us in a positive direction. We begin to realize many events aren't good or bad independent of our reaction. An event is just an event and we can assign whatever feelings and reactions we choose. Choosing a Grateful Perspective is a powerful way to bring more love into our heart.
Most of the time I'm a "less is more" kind of girl but when it comes to gratitude, more is more.