(Originally posted November 2022)
Gratitude. What a word. If you asked anyone what this word means they would probably come up with an answer that includes the word “thankful.’ This word meant much the same to me for most of my life. We always pump up our gratitude in the month of November because we are “supposed” to. I remember those days very vividly. It is easy to make a list of things you are thankful for, but for the most part, for most people, it is very surface level and not much thought is given to it.
Have you ever heard the phrase “(fill in the blank) has changed my life!”? I am sure you have heard this at least once in your lifetime. There are very few things that I like to attach the phrase to because it becomes watered down and has less meaning. You know what I mean, right? “Pizza changed my life.” or “These pants changed my life.” Do you see where I am going with this? If we aren’t careful, we attach “changed my life” to things that really shouldn’t be shaping us.
About 11 years ago, my husband and I were in a transition season. We were on staff at a local church and about a year or so prior, we started feeling the tug that the Lord was doing something new in us. We spoke to our pastor about it, and he was so gracious to help us walk through that time and process all the questions we had while trying to figure out what God was doing. Once we realized that we were being called to move away and plant a church, things started to become clear and fuzzy all at the same time.
My grateful heart started getting farther away from being grateful. I was scared and lonely and trying to figure out how to be a new mom, a good wife, and obedient to this scary and unknown thing God had asked us to do. In the middle of all of this, I heard about a book called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. (Side note, random things aren’t usually random at all.) I read the book and you guessed it, IT CHANGED MY LIFE!
Well, more specifically, the God of this book changed my life. In One Thousand Gifts, Voskamp describes coming to better understand God and find joy in suffering through a practice of radical gratitude. Gratitude not just for the beautiful, delightful, peaceful moments, but gratitude for hard things, for pain, and for trauma. Smack dab in the middle of a very hard time, I started to become aware of all of the things in my life that I should give thanks for.
This was such a gift to me at the perfect time because I wasn’t really seeing these things with my natural eyes. I needed a nudge to open my spiritual eyes and once that happened, I could really see, and my life was changed. The basic idea of the book is to give thanks in all things, but it is actively seeking for ways to be grateful. One of my favorite quotes from the book is,
“And when I give thanks for the seemingly microscopic, I make a place for God to grow within me.” – Ann Voskamp.
All of a sudden, when looking, our eyes are opened to this other-worldly type of gratitude. When you are in seasons of doubt or hard times, it is so important to keep our eyes open to everything because “gratitude precedes the miracle” (Ann Voskamp).
In the Bible we see time and time again, Jesus giving thanks and THEN the miracle happens. Our eyes need to constantly be on Jesus and what he is doing. Maybe you are reading this and thinking, “what’s the big deal?” I want to challenge you to start looking around with intention. Start giving thanks in all things.
One of the things that I did was start a gratitude journal. I wrote down everything I could see. Sometimes this list felt silly to me, but I was seeing God in such a different way, and on my hardest days I was finding joy because of all the blessings right in front of me.
“Our fall was, always has been, and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what He gives. We hunger for something more, something other.” – Ann Voskamp
Where do you see God moving?
How can you find yourself in a mindset of gratitude when nothing seems to be going the way you think it should?
Maybe you can start asking God to show you what He is doing.
Maybe, just maybe, you will start seeing little miracles all around you when you posture your heart towards gratitude.
When you feel like you have nothing, start small.
Thank you, God, for waking me up today. Thank you for the gas in my car. Thank you for this dirty laundry that I have…it shows that you have provided clothes to wear and people to take care of.
This mindset shift is just what I needed to move past myself and my selfish ways and to start seeing God in all things – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and THAT really will change your life.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – I Thessalonians 5:16-18
Written by Taran Nelson. Taran is the Executive Director of Fathom Family Foundation. Her husband, Rev. Kyle Nelson, and she serve in ministry together with their three children in Jacksonville, FL.