As Thanksgiving approaches I am reminded of an important lesson I learned many years ago, of the value of developing the habit of gratitude. My friend Amy shared something that taught me to notice the little blessings in each day no matter the circumstances.
It was not long after my divorce and I was struggling emotionally and financially, trying to take care of my little boy and myself. It seemed like everything that could go wrong was going wrong, and life was piling up on me. It was hard, some days, to look beyond it all and not be overwhelmed.
Amy came over to visit one day when I was feeling especially low, and she just listened. Before she left, she offered something her pastor had said the previous Sunday: "When you go to bed each night," he'd counseled, "count ten things to thank God for in that day."
But she added, "The catch is that they have to be ten different things each night." For example I couldn't just say thank you every night for my son; I would have to think of something in particular he said, or did that made me smile that day.
I didn't say anything, but the thought in my frame of mind at the time was, "Ten?"
That night I tried it, just to see what I could come up with. I surprised myself how quickly I counted more than ten things to give thanks for in that day.
It wasn't that the circumstances changed, but I did. The blessings that I had let pass me by without noticing suddenly came into focus, and I realized that I had been looking down instead of up.
First thing the next morning I went outside to water the little vegetable garden my son and I had started. I took notice of the warm sun, and the quiet of the new day. I listened to the birds singing in the trees, and bent to feel the progress of our plants. I marveled at how much they had grown seemingly overnight—and I said thank you.
When I went inside, I prepared breakfast for my son and I was grateful that we had groceries; I laughed at something silly my son said—and I gave thanks.
That simple suggestion became almost like a game; it prompted me to pay attention to the little gifts that I formerly would have dismissed as ordinary and routine.
Changing how I looked at things changed my attitude. The situations were the same, and things were still hard, but I could handle my life better with my new perspective.
"Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thess. 5:16-18). To rejoice always isn't just to be giddy with happiness, but to be joyful with the knowledge that God was always with me; I wasn't alone, and He would provide. He showed me this so many times—"be not afraid."
I had known this, but I had allowed the circumstances to overshadow all the little blessings God was giving me each day—gold-wrapped gifts he was leaving me—that I wasn't even noticing; what a shame.
Over the years, especially during some difficult health issues, I have had to remind myself of that lesson; paying attention to little blessings in the midst of those very difficult times are what helped me to survive—and I give thanks.
Now I look back at where I have been, and see how God has never left me nor forsaken me. I honestly can say that some of my greatest blessings have come through the most difficult times.
When I was a struggling single parent, I couldn't see the future with my wonderful husband Ed, or my grown son who with our beautiful daughter-in-law has given us our sweet little granddaughters—and I am so thankful for the great blessing they are in my life.
When I was going through my kidney failure, I couldn't see that God would provide me with not just one, but two generous friends who would offer to be my donors—and I give thanks for them.
This Thanksgiving, let us remember to pay attention to the many blessings in our lives, especially the little ones we might have taken for granted. Thank you Lord for watching over us, and knowing the blessings you have prepared for us when we trust in you. Happy Thanksgiving Day!
11/23/2011 5:00:00 AM