A little over a year ago, our bible study group finally completed a series about Thankfulness. I say “finally” because, as a Women’s Bible Study, where the emphasis is not always on any one of those title subjects, it can take us a while longer than recommended to reach the end of our discussions. On anything. However, complete it we did. Not without a challenge though: to find something in our day to be grateful for. Every day. Sometimes A.N.Other Christian challenges you to do something that is both ludicrous and decidedly risky, “for the kingdom”. Finding just one thing to be thankful for in my day, well, that to me seemed not just do-able, but useful. And gospel-oriented. In his letters to early Christians, Paul pursued them to thank God in all circumstances, “no matter what” (1 Thess 5:18); and more, to cultivate (a habit of) thankfulness (Col 3:17).
So, 365 Gratefulness was born. And I was baptised into Instagram, for accountability purposes, thanks to my friend Cheryl (name and shame). Each day, for one year, I was to photograph something I thanked God for, post this photo and add a word or two of explanation. The potential was limitless; simple appreciations, meaningful moments and anything in between.
So typical of our human condition, I began well. A richness crept in to my days. I was excited by the detail which God had graced me to see in my life, to show me more of who He is. Some days I could have filled up to a dozen images into that little Instagram box, although never was I tempted to “combine multiple photos seamlessly” just so I could. There were aspects to this challenge which I was determined to keep in check: endless pictures which identified people (however much I love them), a superficial admiration of the latest Coffee Art thing, adding boomerangs to compete with other Instagram-ers, photographic quality (as “followers” will attest to) and so on, and instead focus on what it was that God pointed my heart to, on that day. It wasn’t always easy to capture a sometimes abstract idea in just one snapshot. So it’s true that one or two coffee cups flirted their way in, but only with very good reason.
Still other days, I flagged. Slumped under a pile of ironing, a timetable of to-do lists, illness or little sleep, the moaning wheels would turn in my head; “Grateful? For what?” Clicks of resentment began to justify putting the camera aside, just for today. And, though I felt no need to become prescriptive about this challenge, neither could I leave it. Paul said, “no matter what”. And somewhere in his letters Paul also talks about fixing our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen; to lift our eyes out of the stuff in front of us. So, I found myself being thankful that I had people to care for, purpose in my life, friends to knock on the door with a box of baked cupcakes and a quiet time to pray. But if those days had been video posts, you’d have heard the muttering.
Miracles happened some days. Newsworthy announcements others. One day I would soak up the sumptuous colour of a waxy, thick-skinned orange. Another, I would focus on the tiny, new wrinkled hand of my latest grand-nephew. Old affections returned, such as renewed appreciation of someone I love. New joys bounded in with a surprise gift, or a song written by my son. Sometimes, I could take a moment to value … well, that moment, and others I could almost miss the laugh in my daughter’s voice. I noticed that an evening hearing my husband sing in the adjacent room was something I took for granted. And to this day, I can still feel the cool beauty in my hand of a velvet-blue hydrangea, presented to me after a Sunday walk by a little girl. Each of my senses came alive with little bits of music, or colour, or aromatic cinnamon, or deep black coffee (there you go) or just a hug. Love languages herded in incidental times: a word of encouragement, a hot chocolate (or coffee) date, notes on my pillow, arriving in the kitchen to find the counter cleared, or a hand in mine. Ordinary stuff like trees and water and a walk with the dog, and extraordinary things like a red sunset, a snow dog, or a milestone – these were equally easy to acknowledge. Time out (holidays), time in (dinner around a table), time passing (birthdays, anniversaries, a son leaving school, a son starting school) – and these worth the effort of recognition. Juxtaposing emotions on a day such as that saying Goodbye to my eldest son, while at the same time being hugely excited at him escaping to the other side of the world, brought mixed gratitude. But gratitude nonetheless.
Here’s the thing.
Truthfully cultivating a habit of thankfulness can be tough stuff.
It may be easy some days, but I openly admit to days when I had to pull hard against my feelings and my thoughts. For me, 365 Gratefulness was a very worthwhile practice. Why? God overshadowed the ordinary, run-of-the-mill days, which may have otherwise left me a little blinded to the gospel. He grew bigger in my life. He settled more into the centre of it. And I am deeply grateful for that.
Maybe this is a challenge which you would like to take one day. I recommend it. But if you do, go a little deeper than coffee art, go with what makes your heart sing and your soul soar, and watch how you long to praise God for it. I found that He spoke love in to my heart every day. So, what’s not to like?