Growing in Gratitude

I chose the word growing as my focus for 2019.

Grant this former English and writing teacher/professor a little grace as I throw in a brief grammar lesson. Growing is the present continuous form of the verb grow. “So what?” I hear you asking. Well, this means the action of growing is happening now, and it’s also continuing into the future.

 

I want growth that produces
momentum for greater growth.

 

I don’t want to just grow, I want to bloom in every aspect of my life. But even more importantly, I want my growth that produces momentum for greater growth–especially in the most important dimension of my life, my spiritual life. One important goal for growth for me this year is growing in gratitude.

I struggled in this area for many years. It’s not that I didn’t say “thank you,” and feel grateful for the things I had. I took people for granted. I took God’s presence and blessings in my life for granted. These things showed up in a critical spirit and a victim mentality. I was pretty much blind to these things until people who loved me graciously held me accountable. I talk about this journey more fully in my book The Silent Seduction of Self-Talk: Conforming Deadly Though Patterns to the Word of God.

 

God gives us the ingredients for growing in our spiritual life:
the Word of God,
the Spirit of God,
and the people of God.

 

Gratitude means more than saying “thank you” or acknowledging that we’re blessed. We convey gratitude in actions we choose and the attitudes we convey to others. We express gratitude in our nonverbal language. We show gratitude through joyous generosity that flows from humble awareness of all God’s given us.

Gratitude is the rain
that nourishes the seed of forgiveness.

 

Gratitude is the sun that melts the proud heart and graces the humble with quiet power.

But how does growing in gratitude work on a practical level?

 

I love my husband, and I’m enormously grateful for many things about him. I can tell him I’m grateful for him a dozen times a day. I can write my thoughts in cards. I can display them on the bathroom mirror in red lipstick.

But my words mean nothing if my attitude and actions don’t match. I negate what I say if

  • I ignore him because I’m too engrossed in my own priorities.
  • I use sarcasm and criticism that disrespect him.
  • I do things behind his back that I know he disapproves of.
  • I talk disrespectfully about him when I’m with friends.

True gratitude expresses itself in ways
that can be seen and sensed.

  • Sacrifice
  • Humility
  • Service
  • Respect
  • Looking out for the best interests of the other
  • Forgiveness and reconciliation

For me, this comes down to paying attention to my self-talk. This is where I discover my true motives and priorities. As I examine my self-talk, I discover that my self-interests often crowd out gratitude and love for others. You can find more information about self-talk in my book The Silent Seduction of Self-Talk: Conforming Deadly Thought Patterns to the Word of God.

Gratitude grows as I grasp God’s love for me and compels my heart to conform to His.

Ask God to magnify your appreciation for all He’s done for you. Ponder the blessings of your life–large and small. Then ask Him to increase your heart of sacrifice, humility, service, respect, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Gratitude is a lifestyle and a mindset.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘therefore I will hope in him.’”

Lamentation 3:22-2

 

What about you? How do you show gratitude in your life? How do you want to grow spiritually this year?

 

 

The Judge in All of Us

gavel

I made my way through the crowd milling in the church foyer toward my good friend. She saw me coming and waved me to her side Tall and sleek in a camel blazer and  brown slacks, she looked as stunning as ever.

I heaved an inward sigh.

I’d called and left messages. Texted. Offered to bring soup, but no response. 

But I understood. Cancer explains so many things, including being too sick to pick up the phone.

We chatted briefly about her illness and mine. Our conversation drifted to the indignities and realities of sickness.

Not being able to go to the bathroom. Not being to stop going to the bathroom.

Nausea. Headaches. Chronic pain.

Fatigue so deep you cry at the thought of putting on your pajamas.

Brain fog so intense you’re not sure you can find your bedroom.

We were laughing as we made our way toward the auditorium–two sisters who understood one another’s private worlds.

She stopped briefly and looked into my eyes. “I have to apologize to you, Shelly. I had no idea what you were going through a few years back when we were working together. I judged you when you were in pain and needed a break, and I let you know it. I was filled with pride toward people who were suffering. I didn’t have a clue what it felt like to be ill all the time. Please forgive me.”

Of course I forgave her. I’d forgiven her long ago. And I never, ever, ever wanted her to suffer with cancer, something I’d always feared for her because of her family history.  I’d trusted her heart and understood that she’d been acting out of ignorance of what she didn’t understand and judged anyway–just like we all do. That didn’t mean I hadn’t been hurt and felt judged.

We all judge people and circumstances we don’t understand or can’t relate to.

People who disagree with us or dislike us, people who are different from us, people whose values we dislike, people we don’t understand.

Take for instance, the guy standing on the corner in the snow asking for money. I tell myself he’s a scammer. I’m doing him and society a favor by not handing him a few bucks or a warm fast-food hamburger. Judgment without knowledge.*

Or what about my brother or sister in Christ who worships differently than I do? Or holds a different view of drinking or vacationing or educating their children or fill-in-the-blank?  What scripts do I write that demean their value as children of God?

One of the greatest gifts of my life is my deep friendship with a dear woman of God who is unlike me in more ways than I can count. Our backgrounds are as contrasting as black and white. We are not the same race. She is a hippie pretending to be an adult. She has taught me to see people who are different from me through new eyes and with fresh compassion. She has given me the desire to ask, “What brought you here?”  “What pain do you carry?” “What things have made your heart cry out for God?”

But rather than express curiosity and seek commonality, we typically gravitate toward pride and judgment.

If we listen to our self-talk, we’ll find we judge others 24/7.

Our kids, our spouses.

Neighbors, friends, co-workers.

Relatives and their relatives, neighbors, and friends. But he antidote for negative self-talk and judgment of others is actually quite simple. We’re to love others as we would want to be loved.

Our church family.

Politicians. Politicians. Politicians.

The answer for our judgmental hearts is as easy and as difficult as loving others as we want to be loved.

In other words, treating others as we would want to be treated.

If we were homeless and standing on a cold street corner.

If we had cancer, a mental illness, chronic illness or needed a second chance.

If we were considered an enemy or an adversary.

With humility, grace, and dignity.

Like Jesus, with freedom in forgiveness and lavish love.

Evaluate your self-talk. Are you loving others as you would want to be loved?