gratitude — the way to gladness

As is fitting for this time of year, the Lord has been teaching me much about thankfulness lately.  I decided at the beginning of the month that for every day in November I would record one thing that I was grateful for.  October was a wonderfully full and busy month, but if I’m honest I came into this season of thanksgiving feeling more tired than thankful.

Normally I do my journaling either in the afternoon when I get off work or in the evenings over a cup of tea, but by the sixth or seventh day, I found that I just couldn’t wait that long for the much-needed refocusing of my spirit on the Lord’s goodness in my life.  So I started keeping a pen on my nightstand and insisting that even my half-asleep self practice thankfulness, which resulted in me groggily scribbling things like, “Thank You, Lord, for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th chances to get out of bed to my alarm.  Thank You for the Keurig machine at work.”  (I think that, like any parent, God finds His children to be especially endearing when they are only half-awake.)

And then on Day 10, a sweet friend reminded me of our shared love for the book of Isaiah, and specifically led me to chapter 51.  After reading through the passage, I responded to her message with tears in my eyes because right there in verse 3 the Lord spoke straight to my soul all the things that I didn’t know I needed to hear.

“For the Lord comforts Zion; He comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.”
(Isaiah 51:3)

Joy and gladness were exactly the things that I seemed to be missing lately – a rare predicament for this self-proclaimed eternal optimist.  So how was I to go about reclaiming a glad and joyful disposition?  My eyes hovered over the third quality that the Lord promises to bestow upon His beloved – thanksgiving.  This was a timely affirmation that I was already on the right track – it seems that joy and gladness are close companions of thanksgiving.  And as I copied those words down into my journal, I realized with a bit of surprise that my lips hadn’t been as full of “the voice of song” lately either.  Perhaps this was a sort of gladness gauge, like the gas light that pops up on my car’s dashboard?  What if the Lord was restoring all of these things to me, and the key to unlock His gift of gladness was the faithful practice of gratitude?

I started praying Isaiah 51:3 over myself several times a day, fervently asking the the Lord to fill not just my life, but my entire being with joy, gladness, thanksgiving, and song.  I copied those words onto a card and set it on top of my desk at work; I wrote them over and over again in my journal, and spoke them out loud to my steering wheel on my morning commute.  The Lord has used this practice of praying a specific promise from His Word to change my heart and life in mighty ways over the last few years, and I am confident that this time will be no exception.

The next major milestone in my thankfulness journey came just a few days later in the form of a daily email/blog I get from the women over at (in)courage.  If you’ve never heard of this wonderful ministry, go check out their website and subscribe to their daily emails right now!  I’m especially grateful for their messages of hope and encouragement each morning.  That’s where I discovered my new favorite quote about gratitude:

“The thing about gratitude is that it’s a little bit sassy.  It’s a feisty declaration that there’s something bigger going on.  There’s no fluff to a grateful heart, it’s gritty, it’s resilient, it’s daring and courageous.
See, celebration, finding the gifts, cultivating gratitude all point us to the same thing: the goodness of God despite and within suffering.  As we determinedly fight for hope and grace, purpose and peace, we discover a foundation that no longer crumbles because we are now sure of how we are loved: Always, no matter what.”
(Sarah Sandifer, The Simplicity of Gritty Gratitude)

Sassy gratitude – isn’t that just perfect?  Again, it seemed like God was giving me a special wink right through my computer screen.  As a little girl just learning to talk, I couldn’t quite pronounce my own name so I went around proudly calling myself “Sassy” and the nickname has since become one of my parents’ favorite terms of endearment for me.  I’ve been called “sassy” for most of my life, and somehow I think the Lord knew that I would need that stubborn resilience to practice gratitude even in the mundane and ordinary.

And if the whole point of gratitude is to remind us of God’s gifts so that we can have eyes to see His extravagant, unending love for us – well, isn’t that He’s been teaching me all along, every day of this crazy, beautiful life?  Isn’t this the truth that I got etched into my wrist so that I would never forget it?  A permanent reminder from God’s eternal Word that I always, always, always have something – countless things! – to be grateful for because He has loved me with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3).  So not only can I always be grateful because I am always loved, but perhaps more importantly for this forgetful heart, I can always remember how loved I am by practicing gratitude.  And how can my heart not be glad upon the happy realization that it is so unconditionally, irrevocably, and deeply loved?

So here’s what I’ve learned:
Like “bosom friends,” I have found that gladness and gratitude travel hand-in-hand.  We simply cannot have one without the other, and where one dwells, the other is sure to reside.  It strikes me as no coincidence that our holiday centered on thanksgiving ushers in the season of “joy to the world.”  Where thankfulness leads, abundant joy is sure to follow.

As loved ones bid their farewells and the leftover turkey disappears from our refrigerators, maybe you’re finding that your life is still lacking that deep and abiding joy that we know is available to us as believers in Christ?  If so, I encourage you to join me in this intentional practice of gratitude for even God’s most easily-overlooked gifts to us (like cardinals on the back porch or store-bought apple pies when you had too much on the to-do list to make your own).  Life itself is a gift, and the Giver is indeed good, friends.  Let’s pray that He would give us eyes to see His faithfulness.

“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies Me;
to the one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”
(Psalm 50:23)

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