The Gratitude Muscle

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The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Stuffing. Mashed potatoes. Turkey. Green beans. All topped off with pumpkin pie, football, and a nice long nap on the couch.

I don’t know what your Thanksgiving looked like this year. Maybe your house was filled with family. Maybe you traveled over the holiday. Maybe it was restful, or perhaps too busy for your liking. Maybe you were with people constantly, or maybe you spent the day alone this year. Maybe your team won, maybe they lost. 

Thanksgiving, for me, has always been a nostalgic favorite when it comes to holidays. There’s a time to pause, in the midst of the excitement and anticipation of the Christmas season, to just be, to rest in a day of thanks. I know Thanksgiving Day may not always feel restful, but I appreciate having a day set aside in the spirit of gratitude.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that it’s much easier to be thankful on a hyped up day full of food, family, and football than it is on the rainy, mushy days in late January when it’s cold, I may have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed, and it seems as if the sun will never shine.

A number of years ago, my perspective on gratitude was shifted from a centralized day of giving thanks to experiencing a brand new appreciation for the little gifted blessings in the day to day. 

It all began when I was given Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts one Christmas. Voskamp writes about her desire for fullness of joy, and how she realized the way to obtain this joy was through eucharisteo, the Greek word for thanksgiving, holding the root words of grace and joy. She began keeping track of daily eucharisteo blessings, even gifts one wouldn’t normally think twice about saying thanks for. She suggested writing down these gifts, which is what they are; yet so often they get overlooked.

She shared examples from her list of one thousand gifts:

Book pages turning. Child sobs ebbing. Boys humming hymns. Click of a seat belt. Horse hooves clopping down a side road. Laundry flapping. Laughter.

As I was reading, I was inspired to accept the “dare to live fully right where you are.” The book challenged me to find joy in the simple things, to count graces and joys and blessings. So I began to look more closely, determined to notice these simple grace-gifts, and in doing so I realized that everything is sacred when seen through a lens of gratitude.

Later that year I was on a service trip and one of our team leaders asked our small group to name something we were thankful for each morning as we drove into the city to do ministry. This daily morning question challenged us to be specific, to notice these blessings as they happened, then to think about them again as we later shared as a group.

After the trip, a close friend and I were determined to keep this gratitude routine a part of our daily lives, so we began sending each other a text message every night before bed, simply naming a few specific grace-gifts we were grateful for that day. 

It started small, each of us naming a couple blessings from our day. But, as time passed, we soon found ourselves typing out little paragraphs each night; once we started naming these gifts, it was hard to stop. As we reflected on our days, so many moments came to mind that called our hearts to thanksgiving.

We continued this daily tradition for years, and through this gratitude journey our eyes were opened to the many joy-gifts that surrounded us in each 24-hour window. Even on the days where attitudes were poor, circumstances were less than great, and the skies were endless gray, there were moments and grace-gifts to recall with a thankful heart. 

Not only did this exercise grow our gratitude muscles, it deepened our friendship and held us accountable to maintaining this spirit of thanksgiving not just on a single Thursday in November but as a daily practice. 

What would this look like to implement in your current season? Maybe it’s starting a gratitude journal and listing three joys at the end of each day. Maybe it’s finding a friend to start exchanging daily gratitude messages with. Maybe it’s downloading a one-second-every-day app and recording a video second of a grace-gift each day. Whatever it looks like for you, as we move into a chaotic, holiday season and beyond into the long winter days ahead, I encourage you to exercise that gratitude muscle and choose to make each day count, as we count the grace-gifts we’ve been given in the gift of each new day.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

 

Maryssa Boyd