For the last few years I’ve kept a “thankfulness jar”.
The last thing I do each night before getting into bed is to pause and write a couple of sentences of gratitude for something that happened during the day.
Some days it is really easy. I list off fun activities, great Ministry moments, joyful interactions with friends & family, experiences of wonder, tasks accomplished or things learned.
Some days are harder. When I’ve been sick, when work has been hard, when I’ve spent the day alone; when my heart is burdened, these are the days I want to get into bed as fast as I can to bring them to an end!
However, when I stand before the small piece of paper with a pen in hand, looking at an ever-filling jar of other moments of gratitude, I never fail to find something to write.
Sometimes I’m just thankful that tomorrow is another day and another chance to do better. Sometimes I’m thankful that those days that are hard are offset by many days of joy and hope. Sometimes I’m thankful for specific people who God brings across my path to bless, inspire, encourage and support me. Sometimes I’m thankful for stewed apricots or a house full of people or God’s grace or a great movie I’ve watched or sore cheeks from laughing or new stationery or a new experience …the list is as diverse as it is endless.
The discipline of gratitude is a necessary part of grounding my heart and mind in the truth – particularly when I am weary or despairing. It resets my internal dialogue – interrupting any negative thought track by forcing me to consider something positive.
In moments of celebration and joy this discipline draws the attention of my heart to reflect on the source of those blessings, growing my faith and deepening my trust.
What about you? Do you have any practices of gratitude that you regularly do? Maybe a daily discipline like this could be a place to start?
Australia’s 12.4 BILLION dollar advertising industry is built largely on the human heart’s capacity for jealousy and envy. We are all well aware of their strategies because, even though we can often see them for exactly what they are, they work! We are constantly bombarded with images of people living a better lifestyle, gadgets that are higher-tech, clothes and accessories that are more stylish; the allure of bigger, better, more.
As we’ve looked at in previous blogs, jealousy is a warning light. It reveals something of what is happening in our hearts and minds that is out of line or unhealthy. It can show us that we’re looking around for our sense of self instead of ahead to God, it can show that we’re not trusting in God’s plans, provision or purpose; or it can show us we’re doing the right things with the wrong motives.
If your Christmas was anything like mine, the presents were piled high and the whole lounge room was strewn with wrapping paper by then end. There were no doubt a few hits and misses with the giving and receiving of gifts, but hopefully the spirit of giving and gratitude was strong in your family gatherings over the past few days.
New clothes, new toys, new décor items and beauty products, tickets and vouchers, gadgets and goodies … most likely you have found yourself with quite a stash after you’ve exchanged gifts with friends and family. It’s such a blessing to be on the receiving end of other people’s generosity!
The reality is that most of us already have more than we need – and certainly more than lots of other people have – and that has just become even more so with the addition of your latest things. The truth is that we generally don’t wear all the clothes we have in our wardrobe or play with every toy in the toy box already – there is only so much time and our interest and capacity are limited too.
Perhaps something you could do as a family is set about “making room” for your new things by selecting some old things to pass along. You might send clothes or toys to a good will organisation – or perhaps you know families through your church or school community who could benefit directly. Maybe you would have a garage sale or take out a stall at a car boot sale to sell your ‘excess’ goods – the money could go toward something more substantial that’s being saved for or even given to a charity.
It’s a great conversation to have with your children – for them to consider how fortunate they are and get a better perspective on how much they really do have. One of the ‘outcomes’ of fostering an attitude of gratitude is generosity. When we truly appreciate all we are blessed with we are keen to bless others from all we are given.
Have you done something like this before? How have you processed it with your family?
My Kids Hope friend was away from the school the day of our last session for the year and so I had to leave her Christmas present with her teacher. It was a bit sad not to be able to enjoy that moment of giving and unwrapping but I left her a little note telling her I was excited to see her again next year.
On Sunday, one of the teachers from her school who attends our church gave me a card from her. A delightful hand made one that thanked me for her “preze” (pressie) and said that she too was looking forward to spending time with me again in 2013. It was a beautiful, heartwarming thought.
It probably goes without saying (but let’s say it anyway) that gratitude is a great virtue to foster. It’s good for the person who IS grateful and it is so encouraging for the people that we’re grateful FOR!
Christmas is a time that we are given MUCH! Firstly, the gift of Jesus – the whole point of Christmas! In the Bible, Paul says we thank God for that “indescribable gift”! But then we are given a whole lot more. We receive gifts, we receive the hospitality of friends and family, we receive the love and relational connection of people near and dear to us … we get lots!!
Of course, we in polite society would always say ‘thank you’, but to foster a spirit of gratitude and to express gratitude takes a little more intentionality and effort.
But let’s do it!!
- Encourage your children to write thank you notes to people who’ve given them gifts. It will help solidify in their minds who gave them what as well as being a delightful surprise for the people who receive them.
- Take a thank you card or gift with you to the family who hosts your various celebrations. You know what it means to have people over for Christmas (that’s why you voted to go to theirhouse) so a little bit of thankfulness could go a long way.
- Take time to pray together and thank God for His indescribable gift to us at Christmas time.
The central message of Christmas is one of sacrificial giving. The God of the Universe gave His only Son, Jesus – born in a manger, killed on a cross, raised to life – so that we might experience the ultimate gift of Salvation. While all sorts of other things will compete to crowd out that truth … the reality of this incredible gift needs to draw us to a different heart posture and a different response.
The Christmas season provides us all manner of opportunities for self-indulgence or to facilitate the self-indulgence of others, it takes a fair degree of intentionality and a whole lot of clear communication to write a different story for ourselves and our families.
Here are some ideas for ways to foster an outward focus during the Christmas season.
- Give gifts that support other causes. Many organisations have developed creative ways to give to need locally and around the world through unique gifts such as a goat, a toilet, a well or a mosquito net given on behalf of friends and family. You can talk about them at home in the planning stage and then you have further opportunity to speak to it when the gift is exchanged.
- Serve together as a family. Shop together to buy food or gifts for families in need. Deliver hampers or food through your church or a welfare organisation. Donate time to wrap gifts in a shopping centre. Serve at a community meal.
- Open your home. Invite someone in who doesn’t have family to spend Christmas with. Include a family for a meal that might otherwise struggle to afford a more ‘special’ celebration. Do an ‘open invitation’ for a Christmas Eve or Christmas night drop in time so people have a safe and hospitable opportunity to connect with others over the celebration period.
- Perform random (anonymous) acts of kindness. Pay for the person behind you in the drive through at McDonald’s. Offer to return someone’s trolley to the bay. Leave $20 toward a person’s petrol while you’re inside paying for your own. Leave a cake or some Christmas goodies on the doorstep of a neighbour. Handwrite Christmas messages and post them or leave them under someone’s windscreen wipers.
- Include the WHOLE family in your planning and giving. As a family, discuss the ways you can be generous together – how will we serve, who will we bless? Wrap presents together so everyone knows what you’re giving to family and friends. Handmade is always a special touch – include children in baking/icing/decorating or in making cards, wrapping paper or tags.
What ideas have you seen/heard of? What have you tried yourself? What have you been the recipient of and how did it bless you? How can we make sure the greatest gift of all to us incites a gratitude that inspires giving?