August 18, 2016

Thankful Thursday

It is a good day to be home. It is Thursday, my day off this semester, and I am so grateful and thankful to be at home. God has blessed me beyond blessing, and I am praising Him for His goodness and mercy this good, good day.

In Everything Give Thanks

The Bible tells us in both the Old Testament and New Testament that we are to give thanks to God for every situation, every circumstance we encounter. God, as the Giver of Life, has given us everything we need to live, to breathe, to function, and as a result we are to give Him thanks. Simply flip through the pages of Scripture, and in short order, you will see the people of God responding to God's goodness by giving Him thanks. No matter where you plant yourself in His word, there is a plea, a recommendation -- no an urgent call -- to give Him thanks.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (MSG) says, "Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live."  
  • 1 Chronicles 6:34 (CSB) says, "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever."
  • Psalm 118:1 (MSG) says, "Thank God because he’s good, because his love never quits." 
Thus, throughout the Bible we see testimony from God's people as they give Him thanks. In fact, we are reminded in James 1:7 that "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." Therefore, it is a natural and expected state for God's people to give Him thanks -- since after all -- He is the giver of all life. Every good thing we have (food, clothing, shelter, work, etc.) is a gift from God. It is our response to His mercy and His goodness when we give Him thanks. But what does it mean to give "thanks?" 

According to Pastor Kenneth KuyKendall (2013), "Giving thanks is more than an expression of gratitude" (para. 1); it is "a mindset, a mentality" (para. 1). Kuykendall says that gratitude is "a keen awareness of our dependence upon a particular thing or person, and then demonstrating that appreciation through a charitable relationship" (para. 1). In fact, the dictionary defines gratitude as "the quality of being thankful" and as a "readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness" (Dictionary. com, 2016).

Kuykendall (2016) says that gratitude can be expressed in three ways: 
  • It means to assess what we have as in an itemized list 
  • It means to acknowledge where the things we have come from
  • It means to appreciate them and to consider how can we repay the gift-giver for their gift to us
I love the way this pastor diagrams out the various aspects of gratitude because often, when we say "thank you" to someone for something, we merely give them lip service. We say, "Hey, thanks" without really considering the cost of the gift or the sacrifice made to create, to manufacture or to procure the gift. It seems that these days, "thank you," is nothing more than a quick response, given without much thought or attention. Let me explain.

There is a Science to Gratitude

What does it mean to give thanks, to be thankful? Is gratitude different than thankfulness?

First, it is important to note what gratitude is and how it is expressed emotionally. Often the words grateful and thankful are used interchangeable, but the two words, while similar denote different aspects of the same idea. 

Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has—as opposed to, for example, a consumer-driven emphasis on what one wants. Gratitude is getting a great deal of attention as a facet of positive psychology: Studies show that we can deliberately cultivate gratitude, and can increase our well-being and happiness by doing so. In addition, gratefulness—and especially expression of it to others—is associated with increased energy, optimism, and empathy (Psychology Today, 2016).

Thankfulness is the conscious acknowledgment of a benefit received (Merriam Webster, 2016). To be thankful simply means that inwardly we understand that something we have received was of great benefit to us. It is "head or heart" knowledge. We grasp that someone did something for us, and we acknowledge that person's graciousness toward us. Gratitude, on the other hand, is outward motivated.  Gratitude is the showing of appreciation for benefits received (Merriam Webster, 2016). Thus, gratitude is the outward manifestation of an inward understanding. 

Gratitude Can Be Cultivated

There is a socio-psychological link between being thankful and expressing gratitude that promotes positive results in us. I believe thankfulness, and expressing our thanks (gratefulness) to God and to others, is a God-given benefit created in us to promote happiness, health, and satisfaction. When we are grateful, thankful, and expressing that appreciation, our entire experience can change. Our outlook on life can improve, and we can find deeper satisfaction despite circumstances or events that may be difficult or distracting to us. 

Science researchers studying the effects of gratitude have noticed similar benefits. According to researchers studying gratitude, "People who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they're thankful for experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems" (Carpenter, 2016, para. 1).  Expressing gratitude is good for us, it has positive impacts on all aspects of our life. Furthermore, when we practice thankfulness or gratitude, we actually feel better about our selves and we enjoy more life-satisfaction. 

In fact, by regularly noticing (assessing) the reasons we have to be thankful, we train ourselves to react more quickly, more positively, to situations and circumstances where we need an attitude of gratitude. Carpenter states, "The best way to reap the benefits of gratitude is to notice new things you’re grateful for every day," (para. 4) and I agree. I have found that when I focus on my reasons for being thankful, I tend to overlook or gloss over my distraction or my disappointment in other areas of my life. Often, my attitude shifts and I am better able to remain positive -- even -- when I am in the midst of a difficult circumstance. For example, recently I had to deal with some disappointment in my life. I spent a number of days thinking about how disappointed I was and how bad I felt about the situation. After a short while, I noticed that my attitude had soured, so much so, that I was getting out of bed in the morning with a "bad attitude." But when I started to list out everything I had to be thankful for and then begin to thank God for His gift and love for me, my attitude immediately improved. My life situation didn't change, I should mention. My heart and my mind simply chose to focus on the reasons I have to be grateful to God, and with that shift, I began to see my life more clearly. Yes, I regained focus, and with that renewed and clarified focus, I was better able to keep everything, the good and the bad, in proper perspective.

One of the ways to cultivate gratitude is to journal. I use my blog as my journal, and often, I will end my posts with a short response where I give thanks to God for His mercy in my life. I guess in many ways, my journal helps me focus my attention on the good in my life, and helps me keep from sinking too low into the darker emotions I sometimes suffer with like depression. Yes, my blog has been cathartic for me. I write my feelings, my emotions, and my thoughts, and through the process of journaling (writing), I find that I am able to keep emotionally stable, emotionally healthy. I am thankful to God for His grace and mercy AND for His provision of a blog where I can journal daily. I am thankful that He has given me this outlet for expression. I have found that my journal has been a blessing to me. I am able now to see the good, the bad, and the ugly in my life and in my world, and without sinking down into the muck and the mire, I am able to keep all of what I see, I hear, and I experience in its proper place. Thus, journaling has been a emotional salve to help me deal with some difficult times in my life. 

In Closing

As I think about my life today, and I list out (mentally), all the reasons I have to be thankful, one thing comes to the forefront. Everything I have today, all that I own (graciously hold) is from the Lord. The Lord provided for me, provided a way for me to find life during a very dark moment when I thought my life, as I knew it, was over. Yes, when I found out that my marriage was in severe crisis and that my ex-husband wanted out, I thought my life was over. My life, everything I knew as my life, suddenly and without warning, came crashing down around me. I found myself stuck in this very unpleasant place, and with little support from those around me (my friends and family), I was very much on my own. I had to process everything without any help, and it would have been very easy for me to believe what my emotions told me. Instead, thanks be to God, I was introduced to good people, people who could help me and who did help me. With their Godly counsel, wisdom, and support, I was able to see a way out. Yet, despite their encouragement, I could not have envisioned the life I have today without the Lord and His purpose and plan for my life. Therefore, in all things, I give Him thanks. The life I have today is His gift to me. He has provided for me in a way that was unimaginable just 3-4-5 years ago. He has made a way for me, and He has given me the possibility of a new life that is more than I could have dreamed it would be. This is why I constantly say, "The Lord is good to me." I give Him thanks every day simply for His goodness toward me. He has taken the shattered remains of my life, and He has repaired the damage, created new opportunities, and given me new direction so that I can go and do the things He desires for me. He has provided a new life, and I am thankful to Him because the life He has made for me is better than any life I could have created, manufactured, or planned. Yes, He is good. He is so very good to me. Selah!

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