I just checked my July miles. I like to keep track of my miles just to observe data and monitor my progress. Plus, I get a kick out of slowly seeing my improvement over time. For the month of July, I have successfully run 17 miles. That’s right, SEVENTEEN. Just a couple months ago, I was running 20 mile long runs in one MORNING, and now I can’t even manage that in the span of a month. It’s very discouraging. And as I try to deal with my injury and lack of running, I realize that I have two options: I can either be mad and crabby about it, or I can choose to adjust my attitude and be grateful.
So I choose gratitude.
Gratitude is Elusive
It’s hard to be grateful isn’t it? I don’t mean we struggle with saying “thank you,” or that we don’t have waves of thankfulness throughout the day, but it’s hard to constantly shift our minds to focus on what’s awesome about out lives. Because the second we start to focus on how wonderfully blessed we are to have a beautiful home, the roof starts leaking. Or when we take a moment to focus on cherishing our children, they throw a Vesuvius-style tantrum in the middle of church. It seems no matter how hard we chase it, it keeps running farther and farther away from us.
I’ll give you an example. My husband and I were able to get away, just the two of us, for a couple of days. We went to Hilton Head, SC and had a wonderful time. We had a nice hotel, and were able to enjoy delicious food and lots of time together. One of our favorite activities was just to walk on the beach at night and the sun went down. All these lovely beach houses lined up the coast. They were huge and gorgeous, and in the middle of our pleasant walk, I started thinking how much I wish we had a big, beach house. Envy crept in; discontent soon followed. Suddenly, my wonderful vacation wasn’t good enough. I needed more.
One minute I was grateful, and the next I was jealous. Where did the gratitude go?
Gratitude is NOT an Emotion
We often qualify certain words as emotions: love, joy, contentment, and yes, grateful. We view these things as feelings – some quality that can be felt deep within. And when the feeling is gone, we search for something else to bring it back. When we decide these things are emotions, we give the power to determine our happiness and attitude on some outside force. This is simply not true.
Love, joy, contentment, and gratitude are not emotions. They are choices. You can choose to be joyful, even when times are hard. You get to choose to love your spouse, children, and friends even when they are unlovable. And you can choose to be grateful, and focus on just how richly you are blessed. Gratitude is NOT an emotion. It is a choice – a verb. An action that you must deliberately practice. Which leads to my next point.
Gratitude is a Practice
For kicks I looked up the word “practice” in a dictionary: repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it. Interesting. Gratitude, like anything we want to be proficient in, requires regular effort and attempts at it. It’s not something that we are born with; we need to be taught it, and we need to practice it.
Part of that practice is to stop comparing ourselves to everyone else. Part of the reason gratitude is so hard is because everywhere we look, everyone seems to have a better life than we do. We get a new refrigerator and we’re thrilled, but suddenly we see a friend post pictures of their completely remodeled kitchen and we’re dissatisfied. We run a PR in a half marathon, but then an influencer on Instagram qualifies for Boston, and we are suddenly jealous.
It takes deliberate effort to stop comparing ourselves to everyone else and focus on what we do have. Done regularly enough, it becomes a state of being that we exist in and become proficient in.
Gratitude is Not Something We Can Do by Ourselves
Here’s the big kicker. Gratitude is not a natural human practice. Quite the contrary. In our natural, sinful states, we are anything but grateful! Gratitude is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is only through the abundance of joy and thankfulness from what Christ has done for us that we are able to fully practice gratitude.
Jesus has already won the only thing we truly need. How can we not be grateful? He plucked me from the filth of my sin, washed me clean and called me his own! You could take everything from me: my house, my possessions, my money, my children, my husband, and I still would have EVERY reason to be overflowing with thankfulness. Salvation is mine through Christ!
It is only through Christ and because of him that we are able to continue to practice gratitude. Because not only has he given us eternal life, his given us far more than we can ask or imagine. Once you realize that, gratitude becomes a natural practice.
In this frustrating season of my life, I’m making a deliberate practice of gratitude. Injury or no injury, sickness or healthy, abundance or want, we can be eternally grateful.