For the last few years I’ve asked the Lord for four words for the year ahead. Each time, I’m amazed to see how those words become themes for what I encounter. I’m almost always frustrated at some point in the word-choosing-process since the Lord often gives me a word I don’t want or says “no” to a word that I think is particularly good for that season. Last year, I really wanted the word “grateful” to be one of my words. But I had a distinct nudge that seemed to say that was only something I wanted, not direction from the Lord. So, I left it on the drawing board, claiming four different words to speak life and truth over the days ahead. But this year, a year that gratitude feels like a conscious, difficult choice, a year where I don’t particularly like choosing gratitude, this is the year that Jesus is giving me “grateful” as one of my four words. I wish I could say I am excited, but I am honestly nervous and a little annoyed. But I suppose the point isn’t for easy words, but for what Jesus has to teach me and impress upon my heart.
Okay, I’m in.
As I think about gratitude, I’m reminded of a study I read about last month. I like what this research from How Pleasure Works shows how our brains work:
A study was done in which scientists presented people with an odor described as either “cheddar cheese” or “body odor” (it was isovaleric acid with some cheddar cheese flavor); this description had the expected effect on their experience and led to an activation difference in the same part of the brain. The studies suggest that once you know the answer, you’ll experience the smell differently. The point, then, isn’t that sensation plays no role in experience. It is rather that sensation is always colored by our beliefs, including our beliefs about essences. (49)
I think far too often I look to what my circumstances are to determine what I believe. Is something good happening to me? I am loved. Is something bad happening to me? I am not loved. But I don’t think that is actually what is true. This study reminds my heart of the truth that what I believe about what is happening can drastically impact that experience. Instead of my circumstances shaping my beliefs, it actually works the other way around. What I believe directly impacts how I experience circumstances. If I believe something is cheddar cheese, I won’t mind a little bit of a smell, the way I might if I think I am smelling body odor. As Shakespeare says, “Tis nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” If I believe I am loved, even painful and hard circumstances will be experienced differently.
I’ve been revisiting Genesis this past week, and I was struck with something in the Creation story this time around. Adam and Eve fall to temptation in such a subtle, deadly way. The serpent simply pointed their hearts toward what God had not given them. I sat and thought about how very much the same I am to my parents in Genesis. My heart is also prone and ripe for sin when my heart is ungrateful.
I’m more and more convinced that gratitude realigns our hearts in the way we were meant to be. The story I tell myself matters.
Last week, we had dinner with some friends and we asked them about some recent difficult life circumstances that had placed them in a rental while their home was having some serious repairs done. While they didn’t deny some of the hardships that had come from this, they continually spoke of the provision, the care, the kindness that they had been shown by the Lord and by his people. They spoke about the things they told their kids about who God is in the midst of hard things. I was impressed by what they chose to say about what easily could have complained about. I don’t know that I would have faulted them either, as their family finds themselves in temporary housing for over half the year. But instead, they chose to say to talk about the gifts in this season, the ways God had taken care of them. And I know they really believe what they said. It wasn’t lines or scripted. It was what their hearts believed that had changed how they saw their circumstances.
Ephesians 5 says that “thanksgiving is our dialect.” I think this means gratitude can be found everywhere in my speech. I’m talking about it so much, it is almost as if it is the language I’m speaking. I’m struck by how counterintuitive it is to thank Jesus when I don’t like how something feels or I am scared or feel shame or am nervous. But I want to be a woman who trusts regardless of circumstances. I want to be a woman whose dialect is thanksgiving. I don’t just want to say lines or recite a script. I want to believe what I am saying. More than just sounding grateful, I want to be a grateful person.
Honestly, today is a day that gratitude feels difficult. But that doesn’t change that I want my heart realigned to how I’m meant to be. I think today, being brave looks like intentionally hunting for the gifts in my day. It means seeing today as cheddar cheese not body odor. It means telling myself what is true until my heart believes it. It means asking Jesus for help when I’m having trouble being grateful. It means believing that the story I tell myself matters. Jesus isn’t out to get me or make my life miserable. He can use even the hard and painful things to teach me and care for me. He doesn’t waste things. He is kind and good and the giver of good gifts. This is what is true. This is what I believe. And this can change how I see my circumstances.
So, today I’m choosing gratitude.
I’m grateful for cold mornings and hot coffee.
I’m grateful for packages in the mail and new books to read.
I’m grateful for hands to hold when I cry and pray.
I’m grateful for shopping buddies.
I’m grateful for honey lime sweet potato tacos for dinner.
I’m grateful for naps and permission to rest.
I’m grateful to have people to miss.
I’m grateful for dance parties and the giggles that slip out from being spun round and round.
I’m grateful that Jesus brought us to PA, regardless of how it feels for me on any given day.
I’m grateful that Jesus is asking me to write about good and hard things.
I’m choosing to be grateful for the things I can see that are good AND the things that I believe Jesus can use for good. I don’t think the point is for gratitude to be easy. I think the point is for gratitude to change my heart to look the way I was intended to be. This is the story I choose.