Lisa Murray, M.A.
Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul.
-Henry Ward Beecher
The fact that we had made it meant so much.
Our first Thanksgiving together was a miracle of sorts. This fragile, blended family had endured so much in such a short amount of time, many could have fairly reckoned we might not make it.
In the first few months of our marriage, we had experienced one crisis after another, not to mention all of the normal struggles of blending a family —learning how to live with each other, respect one another and forge an identity, a small piece of “we-ness” amidst the fractured parts and pieces of our collective histories. We entered Thanksgiving week holding our breath, praying for relief, waiting to exhale.
By the time Thanksgiving Day arrived and our extended family was gathered with us in our new home, we were barely hanging on. We said grace as usual before our meal. We were chatting casually together while we savored all of our family’s traditional recipes.
At the end of the meal, when the ladies were about to clear the table, my stepson suddenly interrupted the various conversations and asked if we could go around the table and share something for which we were thankful. He looked toward my husband to start, and before my husband could open his mouth to share, tears began to flow.
One by one, we circled the table offering thanks, expressing gratitude for what God had done or was doing in our lives. Tears flowed easily, graciously. It was authentic. Beautiful. What surprised me the most in that moment was the reality that everyone had their struggles, their heartbreaks, their trials. No one was exempt. Yet what a treasure to see everyone giving thanks in the midst of their struggles.
I had grappled with gratitude for so long. It seemed I was always waiting to get to the other side of life’s trials to acknowledge His provision and His blessing in my life. I was holding my breath for this season of striving to pass to see the miracle, to give thanks, to offer appreciation.
How can we be appreciative when we are standing at the end of ourselves, struggling to put one cold foot in front of the other for yet another day? How can we give thanks, when it seems everywhere we look, there is scarce for which to be thankful?
Yet isn’t that what real gratitude is all about? Isn’t it easy to be thankful when everything is going smoothly, when our life’s plan is unfolding exactly the way we had hoped, when we’re living life on the high side of the horizon? It’s so much harder when we’re battling just to survive.
I’ve found three reasons to cultivate the gift of gratitude in every season of our lives.
Gratitude brings balance.
We tend to live in extremes. We high-five our successes and grumble inconsolably about our losses. It would appear that life is a seesaw of highs and lows. As Christians, we have come to believe that life should be made up of successive mountaintop experiences. We long for them. We look for them. We become obsessed by them.
Gratitude accepts the nature of life as a blend of experiences. Gratitude allows us to move from extremes of thinking and feeling to embracing every experience as a meaningful, purposeful gift in our lives. Gratitude doesn’t need life to get perfect. Gratitude is thankful right in the middle of the imperfect, the unreasonable, the tortuous.
Allow your soul to acknowledge all that is and trust that it is okay. I’m learning how to see all the experiences in my life as worthy, as needful on my journey. I’m learning how to acknowledge them and breathe into them instead of running away from them.
Gratitude brings meaning.
Even in our suffering, even in the bleakest seasons, even when the night seems unending, gratitude allows us to welcome all experiences into the fabric of our story and cultivate meaning from the most debilitating of human pain and suffering.
Brennan Manning describes gratitude this way:
The dominant characteristic of an authentic spiritual life is the gratitude that flows from trust — not only for all the gifts that I receive from God, but gratitude for all the suffering. Because in that purifying experience, suffering has often been the shortest path to intimacy with God.
Search for the meaning in your circumstances. Lean in a little closer to Him. Allow your suffering to heal you, grow you, teach you. Your adversity was never meant to be wasted. Don’t let your pain pull you away from God, let it draw you closer as your roots become ever deeper and stronger.
Melodie Beattie offers a unique picture of gratitude, saying, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”1
Gratitude brings peace.
In an article in Today’s Christian Woman, Caryn Rivadeneira describes that, “gratitude and peace of mind are inseparable.”2
When we give ourselves the gift of gratitude, we no longer live life running from the negative and fantasizing about the positive, obsessed with a utopia of perfection that doesn’t exist. Gratitude allows us to accept with open hands the ebb and flow of humanity. Gratitude creates an environment of contentment. It settles our anxious torment. Gratitude yields peace.
Paul noted in Philippians 4:11b, “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”
Begin today to reflect back on the momentous experiences, the miracles big and small that have happened in your life. Take note of each of them. Write them on the tablet of your heart, record them in your journal or your Bible to pass down to the generations to come, telling them of God’s faithfulness. Repeat them. Savor them. Enjoy them. Give thanks for them.
Acknowledge the wounds that have etched themselves in your memory, that have buried themselves in the darkest corners of your soul. Begin to breathe into them. Accept them. Give thanks for them. Give thanks for how your story, your pain was part of what brought you to your healing, your Healer. Give thanks that in all things, He has never left you, He has never forsaken you. Give thanks that He continues to heal you, He continues to teach you. He loves you. He has a purpose for everything, even your pain. Your story is not finished.
Are you struggling through a dark season of your soul, waiting for your miracle to come? Has life left you feeling overwhelmed, helpless, hopeless? Do you find yourself barely hanging on, ready to give up? Don’t.
If there was hope that my delicate, breakable little blended family could one day grow solid and strong, there is so much hope for you, too. Believe it. Embrace it.
Gratitude brings balance. Gratitude brings meaning. Gratitude brings peace.
Lisa Murray is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Franklin, TN, with an undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University, as well as a graduate degree from Trevecca University. In 2007 Lisa founded the Counseling and Family Ministries at Grace Chapel in Leipers Fork, TN, where she not only works to help individuals, couples, and families, deal with the complexities and challenges of life and relationships, she also treats a full spectrum of mental health issues. Peace for a Lifetime is available on Amazon.com. Connect with Lisa on Facebook: Lisa Murray, author, or on Twitter: @_Lisa_Murray