A few years ago, a friend recommended a book to me that changed my perspective in a tangible way. Aside from the Bible (yeah, that one changed my life significantly as well) there are only a few other books I would cite as having the impact that this one had.
Interestingly enough, I didn’t particularly care for the author’s writing style, to the point that I have no desire to go back and reread the book. But, what has remained with me over the years is the overall concept…looking purposefully at the things we see day to day and finding the joy in the simplicity of life. By viewing life through the lens of thankfulness, we can move beyond superficial appreciation and enter into an inner gratitude that transcends circumstances.
Sounds profound, but the concept is remarkably simple. In my mind, it looks a bit like this: get up in the morning, put on your thankfulness glasses, and start challenging yourself to see the beauty, the moments, the uniqueness of the world around you. Throughout the “busy-ness” of the day, take time to savor the interactions with others and view them as opportunities that have been placed before you to make a difference, to matter. Start SEEING the life you are living instead of simply surviving.
It’s life-changing, walking through your day this way. Because you are no longer walking through life…you are meandering, sauntering, savoring, relishing…you are LIVING. You are caught up in the wonder and amazement of what is happening around you. You are wearing the proverbial rose-colored glasses, but you don them with confidence, being filled up with gratitude for what our Lord has done for us each and every day.
This works, people, because the focus turns outward instead of on yourself. It’s awfully difficult to have an unfulfilled life when you are tuned in to the blessings around us. Brad has been continually focusing on the verse from Zechariah (4:10a) which says “Do not despise the day of small things…” which shows us that all we do and see are important in the scope of God’s kingdom. From the simplest of tasks, when done with an attitude of worship and focus on others, we can have impact and change lives. Small seeds are planted which can grow into trees bearing massive amounts of fruit. Who are we to wonder about our impact this side of eternity? We can find comfort and rest in knowing that we serve a God greater than ourselves, and, when our hearts are turned to doing what is right, what is good, what is honorable, this cannot turn void. By looking outward and seeing God’s gifts to us we will, with little effort, translate the joy and contentment we have to serving others and relishing the life of small things.
How do I know? Oh, my friends, because knowing this concept and doing it are two separate things. I’ve seen the good, but lately my focus has been SO much on me that I’ve fallen away from what i know. When I am NOT focused on the gratefulness I have for everything that has been given to me, I fail miserably in all aspects of my life. I’m a burden-downed wife, a crabby mom, a co-worker who doesn’t see hurt and pain around her. I’m self-centered, with a poor-me attitude. I get overwhelmed by the continual inconveniences that come my way. They pile up and seem insurmountable, when, in perspective, they are nothing but a mild irritation. The contrast of living a life of gratitude with that of a life of me, me, me is the difference of living a life with meaning and purpose versus trudging through the day. I’ve seen both sides, and I want to jump over to the other again.
When I’m caught up in the cycle of inner wallowing, I have to make an intentional effort to get back to the basics. While I’ve been doing my bible reading daily, I also needed to step things up a notch or two to get back on track. I need tangibleness…things that I can do to see results. Here are a few steps I am taking to get back on track when I feel myself slipping back to “Sarah-focus”:
1. Pick up (or start!) a gratitude journal and write things down: Even though I am being grateful for items in my mind, seeing them on paper works for me. I can’t do my tablet or my computer – I need tangible and handwritten. Just start writing. Start with the obvious – thankful for food and clothes, but challenge yourself to go deeper and find the little things in your day which mean something to you.
2. More intentional prayer: I’m working on the habit of praying in the moment and beyond. When I say I will pray for you, I’m going to do it right that very minute. If it’s via Facebook, you can know with all assuredness that the minute I’m done typing you the note, I’m praying.
3. Keep a praise and prayer journal: I’m just restarting this again after many failed attempts to keep it up. I love to see how God is faithful through the good and the bad. I find it’s easy to keep a prayer journal with all the requests, but harder to keep a praise journal. I’m incorporating them to be one and the same, because, most of the time, they go hand in hand. (By the way, in the interest of simplicity and margin (see #7) I have combined my gratitude and praise/prayer journal. Trust me, this is a big step for someone who likes things all neat and orderly and didn’t even start a gratitude journal for years because she couldn’t find the “perfect” journal…but, really, aren’t they all falling under the same general theme anyway?)
4. Write thank you notes: This has always been an intention of mine and I find that I fall miserably short. Instead of spending time in the regret pool, I’m going to write them when I can and make sure I keep them front and center to remember. If I’m looking outward, I’m going to find lots of opportunities to write and I don’t want to miss the chance.
5. Take more photos: I love to take pictures, and I plan to look through my lens with a different eye. It’s easy to be thankful for the sunset, the beautiful flowers…but the insects? Dirty dishes? Amazingly enough, there is beauty in those as well. I have a special little guy who loves to see bugs…how cool to see the ones from Ecuador. (Thaddeus, the one below is for you, buddy). The dishes? We’re blessed with food throughout the day. You get the…picture.
6. Encourage others: While I try to be faithful in this area, I want to continue to grow and be transparent. Again, seeking others out and helping to reframe life in terms of “joy” is a discipline requiring practice. When we work together as a community to build each other up, the strength we have together cannot be shaken. Let’s keep the gossip and drama out of this realm…I want to be a woman who stands to support, not break down those around me.
7. Allow margin: In the world we live in, we are constantly behind, overtired, stretched to the breaking point…when running this race there is no room for reflection and contemplation. I would go as far as to say that allowing down time in your day is often “frowned upon” by the fast-paced culture we live in. We need to use more of the “addition by subtraction” principle to seek out the best of things in our life and lose the weights that are keeping us from joy. I need to continually evaluate my “red flag” areas…particularly in the area of Facebook time. Am I using up my extra time in areas of growth and gratitude, or by escaping into another world through some other means? Additionally, if I have no margin in my day, I have no time to take the opportunities that God places before me…in fact, I will probably not even recognize them as ways to make a difference. This is a daily battle for me, but when I set my heart on Christ the minute I put my feet to the ground, He helps me focus on things that matter.
8. Keep the first things first: Best intentions are only that…intentions. I, on my own power, will fail if I don’t tap into the life source that is a power beyond my own. I need to be fed through the Word and through other believers. By the strength of the Holy Spirit, I can be used for his glory and His kingdom work. I only need to trust Him to lead and guide me. When I venture my own way, and go the way of the world, the result is angst, uncertainty, being unfulfilled. When I seek Him first, the path is clear. Oh, that I may continually keep that as my focus and guiding principle.
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:2 NLT)
These are my action steps…ones that I need to continually look back to and focus upon to keep my attitude of gratitude. I’ve slipped away but am heading back in the right direction. I’m thankful for a gracious God who is patient with us as we meander our way through the one life we have been given. I continually flounder, but know that when my eyes are focused on Jesus, my life is one of satisfaction and joy, which, when I stop to actually think about it, is truly the only way I want to live.
I pray you have found this joy that can only be based in Him.
To God be the glory,
PS. By the way, the name of the book I read was One Thousand Gifts: A Dare To Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp. Just a book I read – no affiliation or compensation for plugging it.