Monday, April 20, 2015

Choosing Thankfulness

Being thankful is a choice.  We may not always want to be thankful in a situation or circumstances (not thankful for difficulty, but thankful in it), but we can learn to be if we pursue it - and this will bless us deeply, as well as everyone around us...
Let's consider,
  • Does choosing thankfulness doom us to stay in the difficulty?
  • Why and how to choose thankfulness
  • Two examples from my life
  • Teaching our children to be thankful 

It is so good if we can learn to identify those things to be thankful for, recognize the Lord's provision all around us all of the time, and focus our mind on those things rather than on the difficulties.  When we are in the Lord's plans then we are not victims.  Things often times do not go as we desire them to, or how we were told they would go, or how we planned them to go - but we shouldn't take on a victim mentality about it.  Believe me, I've gotten upset over difficult circumstances enough of my life to know it does not serve well.  *chuckle*  And I've tasted the sweetness of being able to choose thankfulness.

Does choosing thankfulness doom us to stay in the difficulty? 

I also used to fear that if I chose to be thankful in difficulty that I would be condemning myself to remaining in that difficulty permanently.  But that is a lie from the enemy of our souls.  The Lord still moves on our behalf all the time, sending blessing, provision, protection.  He is the living God, and His involvement and hand on our lives breathes life, so we can have peace.  "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28)."   

We will likely see the end of the current difficulty within the short term.  If it is longer term then we need to be patient.  And if we do not see the end of a particular difficulty on this side of heaven, we can rest in the knowledge that He is still good and will make all things clear to us when we meet Him in heaven.  Either way we need to be thankful.  It's really a matter of trusting the Lord.  If we trust Him and that His plans are good, then we can better pursue being thankful for things in difficulty.

Why and how to choose thankfulness

Now when I refer to “choosing thankfulness” I am really not meaning to be flippant or clich√©.  I know it’s not always easy to do… but I also know that it changes one’s outlook on life when we are thankful.  And while learning to be thankful, I’ve also come to know my Lord so much better and to trust him and His Lordship over my life.  These go hand-in-hand. 

I’ve heard it said, 

We choose what we think,
which effects what we feel,
which effects how we act.

– and our actions shape our character and our habits.  I have found this to be so very true in my own life, in the lives of our children, and in the lives of friends, both in large things and in small.  God tells us in Romans 12:2 that we are to, “…be transformed by the renewing of our mind… ” (emphasis mine).  Philippians 3:6-9 says,

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or see in me, - put it in to practice.  And the peace of god will be with you” (emphasis mine).

About twenty years ago I began to intentionally practice looking for things to be thankful for all the time.  Even when I was sure I couldn’t… I found one thing.  Then two things.  And with practice I became able to list, and list, and list things to be thankful for in any situation I’ve determined to do so in.  When I’m struggling, the Lord brings to mind what I've learned about being thankful while I wait to see what the Lord's plan requires of me.  I put thankfulness in to practice, and my eyebrows lift, my shoulders relax, the worry lifts, sometimes my eyes tear, and I am able to praise God – and just as God promises, He is present in our worship – and I feel it – and am able to act on it.  And being able to be thankful effects everyone around us so significantly.  

Two examples from my life

Here is a little story of one example.  Last summer we had been really looking forward to beach weather.  Then the dry summer warmth did not arrive here in Washington until August (instead of June!).  Finally on one moderately dry and warm day we decided we were tired of waiting, so we prepared and packed for a day at the beach.  Nine kids in to bathing suits.  Nine kids sun screened.  Life jackets our for the youngest 7 children, and aqua socks, beach toys, snorkel gear for the older ones, beach towels, packed lunch in the cooler, and sun hats for the babies.  We spend $10 in gas driving 35 minutes to a favorite beach that has very few people (if any), making it very easy for me to keep track of all 9 children while still enjoying play time with them.  Incoming on the disappointment.  

The weather is always better in Anacortes than in Mount Vernon...but not this day.  After we've driven about 25 minutes in to the journey I can see that the weather is getting darker, colder, windier, and even drizzling rain.  When we are about 30 minutes into the journey, another driver decides she does not like my driving (unjustifiably), and decides to follow me the rest of the way to the beach so that she can then get out of her car and chew me out for about 5 minutes.  Irritability is sinking in, and I'm biting my tongue to avoid speaking to this woman.  After she leaves I try to park, far from the beach but within view as the little parking lot is full for some reason.  As soon as I get out I can tell it is way too cold for our family to enjoy our time there that day without coats (it was not cold or windy at our house; didn't think we'd need coats for a day at the beach - go figure).  I even walk out to where the sand starts, sinking my shoes in to it's softness, smelling the salty air and hearing the seagulls crying out.  I wonder if we stay closer in towards the logs maybe it will be warm enough for us?  Nope.  I have to face the facts: we can't stay at the beach that day.  My heart is so disappointed, I feel we've wasted a lot of time and $10 I could have done something else with, we will have to unpack everything now without having used any of it, and I'll have to face 9 children who's own disappointment (and complaining and questioning) only deepens my own.  Deep breath before getting back in to the van.

Now here is where choosing thankfulness comes in.  After explaining the situation to the kids I began listing things we could be thankful for out loud so the children could benefit with me.  Thank You Lord that we have a comfy, warm, dry, reliable van to drive home in.  Thank You for the audio book we get to enjoy for over an hour today driving to and from Anacortes.  Thank You for the full gas tank we have.  Thank You that we have the rest of the day ahead of us to enjoy together.  Thank you that we're all healthy and well.  Thank You that the upset driver did nothing more than attack verbally. Thank You, Lord, for the beautiful scenery we have here in Washington.  Thank You that we've had a safe trip so far.  Thank You that lunch is already prepared in our cooler so that when we arrive home we can just sit down to eat.  Thank You that we have the rest of the day to do with as we choose.  Thank you for the private beach we have access to for another day.  Thank You that our kids have so much nice beach equipment to use when we do go to the beach.  And thank You, Lord, that you love us so very much... and I could go on and on...  Nothing really exciting or surprising came from this change in plans, I just chose thankfulness and moved in to the day better than I would have if I had gotten angry or escalated my disappointment, effecting 9 other people and then having to deal with their own poor choices with each other, likely resulting in a lot of work to correct and improve their behavior.

Here is another example. It's not the hardest thing I've ever gone through, but it was potentially a very scary time for Bob and I.
My husband was out of work for 5 months right after our twin baby girls were born (he had a job, but they didn't have work during this time).  We were living paycheck-to-paycheck in life, so this situation tempted us to be extremely fearful.  We could have chosen to focus on the loss of a full pay check which would drive us into fear and depression, anger at each other and the children (as a result of fear), paralyzing us from doing anything productive.  But we chose to immediately begin thinking on things to be thankful for, we felt peaceful then as we saw God’s provision around us which helps us to trust Him, and we then acted calmly and patiently.  I was thankful my husband had a job, even though they didn’t have work for that time.  Thankful that he had an employer who is a Christian.  Thankful that my husband was physically able to do good work despite the two serious car accidents he was hit in a few years prior.  I was thankful that Bob enjoys working hard and providing for his family.  I was thankful I get to stay home with the children and teach them at home while he is the bread-winner of our family.  I praised the Lord for that quality and quantity of time we had with Bob at home those 5 months.  Bob enjoyed helping with homeschooling while he was here during the day, getting projects done around the house and yard, and he was able to seek "side work" to do.  I was thankful for the camera Bob was able to purchase with the Christmas bonus he'd just received (not knowing he would be out of work in January) and that he had ample time then to learn so much more about photography, and to serve our church with his photography skills.  And with his knowledge about construction and his ability to do it, he could help our church with its remodel project.  It was such a blessing that he has been home right after the birth of our twin girls for their first 5 months (they were born Nov. 28th, 2011), and that he was such a help with them and enjoyed it – day and night!  I’m thankful for the snuggle time Bob had on the couch with our 4-year-old every morning before the rest of the kids are up.  I was so thankful that our medical/dental/vision insurance had continued that entire time.  And I could go on and on with so many more things. 

I know there are also lots of opportunities for “what if’s” in this small list but we try not to dwell on those; and I know that some of the things I listed here not everyone can be thankful for if they’re in a similar situation – but my point is that there are things to be thankful for in all situations if we practice looking for them.  Practicing thankfulness is intentional.  It’s not natural at first until we form a new habit of thinking this way and then it does become natural! 

Teaching our children to be thankful

Bob and I also train our children to think this way as soon as they’re old enough to talk about thankfulness with us, around age 2.  We do this verbally and with our example, but sometimes thankfulness doesn’t sink in easily (or is simply not desired, so it is refused *chuckle*).  When I feel like I’ve been demonstrating how a child can choose thankfulness for something but that child needs reminders day after day after day, then I’ll make up a list for them to see and review often without my constant verbal reminders.  I'm a very visual person, so seeing things written down, and seeing the length of the list of things to be thankful for really helps me.  I’ll either have that child copy it down a few times, or I’ll post it in a visible place so that it is a reminder of how they can choose thankfulness in that thing.  Here is an example. 

Our oldest daughter, Karen, enjoys making lunch for the family every day.  For a while we were eating a lot of PB&J, and she began complaining about having to prepare that all the time, and asking why we couldn’t have something different every day.  I grabbed a couple of colored markers to make my list cheerful looking and wrote out all the reasons I’d been giving her verbally so that she could see them on the kitchen cupboard door every day while she prepared food (and I wouldn’t have to continue repeating myself…come to think of it, I should make up a list of things to be thankful for when I have to repeat myself a lot… *chuckle*).  She eventually adopted an attitude of thankfulness when she considered everything there is to be thankful about PB&J, and she’s now able to carry that reasoning and practice in to other types of food that we eat often as staple items.  (click on photo to enlarge)

We now see evidence that the practice of thankfulness made an impression on her and that she’s forming good habits in choosing her thoughts carefully.  A little while later when Karen was not feeling thankful for getting to practice violin every day she made up her own list of things to be thankful for and brought it to share with me; we then hung it on the wall so that she could remember to be thankful when practicing!  Here’s her list:  (click on photo to enlarge)

Now, please don’t think that I’ve arrived in capturing all of my thoughts all of the time, but I’ve sure come a long way and my life is very different.  Just acquiring this concept brought hope for me even though developing this new habit took time and a lot of effort at first.  Now it’s very natural, and hopefully I’ll be able to help our 9 children adopt this mindset for themselves as well.

Blessings on your efforts,


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