The Gratitude Journal
Scripture: James 1:17
I bought a gratitude journal for this year. The challenges at the end of 2019 convinced me I would need to be intentional in practicing gratitude in 2020. I placed the journal resolutely on the shelf next to our dining room table and informed my husband and daughter we would be sharing one thing we were grateful for each night at dinner.
Then I spent two weeks unable to eat “normal” food after having three wisdom teeth extracted. So much for our dinner time ritual those nights.
The next week was my daughter’s dance recital, and we were out late at dress rehearsals every night. No gratitude practice those evenings either.
It’s the end of February and most of the pages in the journal are blank. Best laid plans, right?
Gratitude feels inaccessible many days because I’m busy or tired or distracted. Somedays choosing gratitude feels like lying to myself. I don’t want to say “thanks” for things when they haven’t necessarily panned out the way I had hoped.
I’m petty like that.
“Thanks, but…” feels more achievable, but I think that still misses the point. This is why I’m choosing to focus on gratitude as the first Lent-ish practice. If the invitation of Lent is to practice abstaining from something to focus more fully on who God is and how God is at work in the world, then I need to fast from my dependence on criticism.
At any given moment I can tell you between five and ten things that could be improved upon, or that are not going well. It’s a gift, I suppose. Sometimes a helpful gift. Lord knows there are enough things that need to be challenged and critiqued. But criticism of the faulty without a grateful acknowledgment of the good quickly curls in on itself into an exhausting loop of gloom and doom.
Criticism is needed to identify the problems in our lives and in the systems of the world, but gratitude invites us into different ways of being with one another, it is the creative energy that allows us to imagine a world in which our criticisms are no longer needed.
In her book, Gratitude, Diana Butler Bass notes that “Gifts are the nature of the universe itself, given by God or the natural order. Grace reminds us that every good thing is a gift—that somehow the rising of the sun and being alive are indiscriminate daily offerings to us—and then we understand that all benefactors are also beneficiaries and all beneficiaries can be benefactors. All that we have was gifted to all of us.”
Gratitude is the great equalizer, and living in the recognition that all is a gift means I must also live in the recognition that I am not free to spend or exploit or hoard what has been given to me on my own terms. “Gifts come before givers,” Bass continues, “We do not really give gifts. We recognize gifts, we receive them, and we pass them on. We all rely on these gifts. We all share them.”
The mushy foods I was resigned to in the weeks following my extractions were as much an invitation to gratitude as they were a distraction from it, the difference was only my willingness to notice.
The business of a dance recital, and late rehearsals and sore feet was as much a prompting to recognize the gifts of art and bodies and opportunities and mentors and teachers and friends as it was a distraction from the journal on the shelf, waiting for us to record our gratitude. The difference was our willingness to have eyes to see.
In any given moment I may be able to identify five to ten things that are wrong, but can I also identify five to ten miraculous things that made that moment possible? Like that I am sitting at this keyboard writing words that I can beam across the internet into your home or your phone, and somehow we both feel less alone because of it? This is a gift at the very least, and probably a miracle if I think about it long enough.
This week, I am inviting you to join me in fasting from criticism and intentionally practicing gratitude. Start small. Instead of starting and ending your day on your phone, take a few minutes on either end of the day to call to mind three people, occurrences, relationships or things you are grateful for. Hold them in your mind. Notice how calling these things and people to mind impacts your body. Sit with the gratitude for a moment before launching into your day or drifting off to sleep. See if you can return to those moments when criticism creeps into the corners of your day.
Together we can choose a way other than our own. A way centered on gratitude instead of criticism.