Saturday, November 22, 2014

Giving Thanks is an Act of the Will

Q.  I know that you encourage people to think positively, count their blessings and be grateful. In other posts you have talked about the benefits of gratitude - that it helps us physically, mentally and spiritually. 

How can anyone do this in the midst of a very trying time ln their life? Also, how can someone learn to do this who has a life time habit of negative thinking?

A.  You ask two very important questions about learning to think positively and be thankful. We all face some dark times in life. We face marital or family problems, disability, illness, the loss of a job, the death of a loved one - to name a few common experiences. In these situations it’s normal to go through a variety of emotions. 

We feel out of control. Our life has been turned upside down. The rug has been pulled out from under us. Grieving is normal and essential to work through our disappointment and loss. Tears and some depression are normal at these times. 
However, like the person who has a life long habit of being negative, we can wallow in our grief and depression too much and too long. We do this when we paint everything with a black brush. We do this when we forget to count our blessings. We do this when we take our good fortune for granted. We do this when we’re wrapped up in ourselves and think life owes us only good times. We do this when we forget to trust and thank God.

Joni Eareckson Tada was paralyzed as the result of a diving accident in her teens. Yet she has gone on to lead a life that has touched and helped many others though she is still confined to a wheel chair. She says that the Bible verse “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) is her anchor. “I gritted my teeth, pushed aside feelings of despair, and willfully gave thanks for everything from the hospital breakfast of cold cornmeal mush to the grueling hours of daily physical therapy.” 
When she began this she didn’t feel thankful. She notes the difference between feeling thankful and giving thanks. Feeling thankful involves our emotions. Giving thanks is an act of the will. Also, the Bible verse doesn’t expect us to give thanks for the difficult times. We’re only supposed to give thanks in them. Joni Eareckson Tada says that months later a miracle occurred. She began to feel thankful. Her despair lifted and her attitude brightened.

To learn from Joni Eareckson Tada, we must make a habit of counting our blessings. This is not easy for someone to do who has a habit of pessimism. For any of us it will require a decision to do this, an act of our will, that over and over again we will keep track of our blessings. 

As I’ve noted before, a gratitude journal is very helpful in disciplining us in this habit.  Write down in a notebook five things you’re thankful for each day. Look for simple pleasures - seeing a cardinal in the snow, the laughter of a child, the smile of a friend. 
To change a constant habit of pessimism requires moment by moment attention to our thoughts. We change our negative mindset by an act of the will, over and over again stopping the negative thoughts and focusing on the pluses in our lives. Prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit can help you. With practice we can make giving thanks a habit and soon we will really feel thankful.
This Thanksgiving Day let’s all thank God for our blessings and let’s begin a written gratitude journal and give thanks to God every day of the year. Doing so will bless us.

Give thanks in all circumstances.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Blessings, Dottie

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