Friends, I tried it, and it works.
Penning three gifts per day.
Stating specifically what God gave you today – grossly limited to three short phrases, or words.
It brings a slow change in the way your brain soaks in the world around you. A mental shift from wanting, always wanting, to having, always having.
And I guess it makes sense. God asks me to give thanks, not because he is an egomaniac and needs constant praise to put one foot in front of the other, but because He knows that giving thanks brings joy.
By not naming them, I risk not noticing them. Worse, I risk wanting what I don’t have; and even worse, thinking that having what I do not have will make me thankful for those things.
When I don’t focus on the gifts I have, I tend to look at what’s not on the menu, and become like little Veruca Salt on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Veruca Salt: Daddy, I want a squirrel. Get me one of those squirrels, I want one!
Mr. Salt: Veruca dear, you have many marvelous pets.
Veruca Salt: All I’ve got at home is one pony and two dogs and four cats and six bunny rabbits and two parakeets and three canaries and a green parrot and a turtle, and a silly old hamster! I WANT a SQUIRREL!
Mr. Salt: All right, pet. Daddy’ll get you a squirrel just as soon as he possibly can.
Veruca Salt: But I don’t want any old squirrel! I want a *trained* squirrel!
Mr. Salt: [wearily] Very well. Mr. Wonka? How much do you want for one of these squirrels? Name your price.
Willy Wonka: Oh they’re not for sale. She can’t have one.
Veruca Salt: Daddy!
Willy Wonka: [imitating Mr. Salt] I’m sorry, darling. Mr. Wonka’s being unreasonable. (1)
When I don’t begin naming what I have, start wanting the 29th beer that’s not on the menu instead of reveling in the 28 that ARE on the list.
I crawl in my bed, reach for my sleeping pill to rock me to sleep, I glance at my gratitude journal.
The third snowstorm in April has hit, and I’m having one of a few really bad days.
Absolutely not, I will not pick it up tonight. There is nothing to be thankful for.
Unable to fall asleep, I turn on the light, fumble for a book, and accidentally uncover the journal. Sarcasm grabs the book and says; “Ok, whatever, God, if I find even one thing to be thankful for tonight I’ll believe you did come down and save me so that I could sit in solitary confinement, in order that I might thank you for the dark emptiness that I’m breathing.”
I grab the book, turn to first page of empty lines, and stare. Nothing, nothing. Silence.
Ok. Pain medication. There’s something to be thankful for on a crappy day.
Stare, stare, through blurry eyes. Now, Sarcasm takes a baby step aside as I feel a bit of warmth, yet still dispirited, and I write “Jesus’ return”. Final escape from pain, loneliness, despondency.
One of the most valuable mental tools I acquired from our local Biblical counseling center, Christian Life Ministries, is something called the Principle of Receiving. It holds that every person or circumstance in your life is a perfect gift from God to do the work in you He wants to do. Perfect gifts: things that you can’t change about your children, your spouse, your job, your finances, your family; your losses, your pain, your griefs. God uses the metal scraping upon metal to change you; giving you “affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity…a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that has a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely”. Galations 5:22, the Message – the “Fruits of the Spirit”
If this is true, then it means that the crappy, hard things actually belong on the list of things to be thankful for, because these are the things that will free me from the things that imprison me.
But I don’t want them. I don’t even try to come up with a fake “thank you, God” after opening the gift. I instead demand a gift receipt so I can exchange it for something better. Either He has really poor taste, or He doesn’t know me like He claims to.
I just don’t like bitter beer.
Beer making starts with the process of saccharification – converting the starch in malted barley or wheat to sugar. Hops are then added for flavor, and then yeast is added, which will cause the sugar to ferment.
Hops are flowers of the hop vine that balances the sweet taste of the malt with bitterness. They add flavor and aroma to beer.
It stands to reason that one must embrace the bitterness of beer to get to the flavor of beer.
I am a sissy beer drinker, and have not yet learned to embrace the bitterness.
I love how my tongue quickly embraces the Wasatch Apricot Hefeweizen. The Empyrean Chocolate Cherry Stout sounds gloriously decadent, but I won’t want to taste through the bitterness to get to the rich flavor.
On a well-rested and medicated day, I can journal a word of thanks for a bitter beer, as long as it has a hint of sweet; something besides God’s sovereignty in which I taste that gives me hope for getting beyond the bitterness. But when I’m left with pure bitter; left perceiving no hope beyond how God might intervene which I doubt, then, absolutely not, I will not thank you for this, God.
But God’s insatiable lust for good, and his unmatched power to act accordingly, IS why we can pen thanks for that which is bitter.
“The basis for your gratitude is My sovereignty.” – God. (2)
Take the joy dare.
Pen three things you are thankful for every day. Make them specific.
Start with the things that are easy to be thankful for. Work your way into those that are not.
Before you know it, you will grasp your beer mug tightly as you wave it to and fro, froth spilling over the sides, singing songs of gratitude ale.
(2) Sarah Young, Jesus Calling, April 16th.