How to cultivate a heart of gratitude in a challenging season
Surviving the Holidays Series
My hubby and I decided to spend Thanksgiving at one of my favorite local restaurants. We strolled in a few hours before closing time, ordered the restaurant’s Thanksgiving dinner and watched football on the flat screen. Just the two of us. It wasn’t our initial plan or the ideal holiday dinner I envisioned, but it turned out to be what we both needed. We both acknowledged that Thanksgiving this year was difficult for several reasons. Yes, we definitely have a lot to be grateful for, but we still felt the sting of recent life events, which can make this time of year challenging.
Let’s be honest. It’s easier to send up a prayer of thanks and count our blessings when life is good...everyone we love is doing fine. Healthy. The balance in our bank account doesn’t make us cringe. We have a career we enjoy. We are living life and doing what we love on a regular basis. The bad days are few and far in between, so we don’t mind them.
The challenge occurs when those bad days pour in like a flood, eventually erupting into a tornado, tearing our lives apart and knocking the wind out of us. It’s harder to keep our mind focused on the blessings and good times while picking up the pieces in the aftermath. When that bank account is sitting real low, when someone you love is sick or passes away or when you lose a job or your marriage/relationship falls apart, it can be a struggle to remain grateful in a crisis, especially during the holidays.
It takes effort to stay grateful when dealing with adversity and obstacles, but there are ways we can remind ourselves of life’s blessings and foster a grateful heart - even in the midst of a challenging holiday season.
Don’t get hung up on inconveniences
My husband and I encountered an unexpected and expensive car repair on Thanksgiving Eve. Neither of us were thrilled about it, but thankfully, the expense didn’t put us in a financial bind. It didn’t mean we were down a car for more than 24 hours. No one had to walk for miles to get from point A to point B. It was simply an inconvenience.
Sometimes, we need to see an inconvenience for what it is. Fixable and temporary. An inconvenience may not feel good at the moment, but it’s not a life-changing crisis.
At a certain point, I stopped complaining about the repair and told my husband, “Well thank God we have the means to pay for it.” Does that mean I suddenly felt overjoyed to pay for the unexpected repair? Not at all. But in that moment I had a choice to either challenge myself to see the flip side of the situation or to continue complaining about a situation that was fixable. One we had the means to solve. I chose to acknowledge the blessing in the midst of our inconvenience.
It’s not always easy to do this, especially when back-to-back inconveniences weigh you down. I’m not suggesting that we walk around high-fiving others about our inconveniences because that’s not realistic. But it helps to realize that inconveniences only lasts for a moment. They also don’t leave permanent damage behind. And that’s something to be grateful for.
What inconveniences are you dealing with this holiday season? Is there a positive side to the situation? What blessings can you discover in spite of any inconveniences?
Help those in need
Serving others in their time of need gives us an opportunity to give back and often reminds us of our own blessings. On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, several ladies and myself volunteered to serve dinner at a women’s shelter in one of the poorest and worst neighborhoods in Chicago. The women and children gathered in the dining area, waiting patiently as we brought their Thanksgiving meal to them, which may have been the only holiday meal they will receive this year. They expressed gratitude for the warm food we provided, and we were all grateful for the opportunity to serve them.
Basic necessities that we take for granted are a luxury to others. It reminds me to acknowledge the small things in life as well. The things I don't think twice about sometimes, like having clean running water, a warm car and place to live, etc. Volunteering our time, resources or talents to help those in need changes our perspective. Serving the less fortunate takes our mind off of ourselves and places our focus on helping others. When we pay it forward, we can give thanks that we are in a position to bless someone else.
Who can you bless this holiday season? How can you volunteer your time, resources or services to help someone else and pay it forward?
Acknowledge your blessings and wins daily
When you’re deeply hurt or going through a trying time, it becomes difficult to see outside of your situation. I had a tough time acknowledging my blessings last year. I couldn’t see beyond my loss to give praise for anything else at one point.
As I journaled my grief during the holiday season last year, I made a commitment to write down three things I was thankful for at the end of each journal entry, regardless of how my day went. I needed to express my gratitude consistently, beyond how I felt about life in that moment. Sometimes, I made myself get super specific. I wrote down people and why I felt thankful for them. I wrote down small blessings, like if I came across a book or magazine article that uplifted me. On the really difficult days, it took forever to come up with three things, but I made sure I didn’t put my journal away until I wrote something down. Counting our blessings on a daily basis helps us to cope when life becomes difficult.
What can you give thanks for this holiday season? Challenge yourself to write down three things you are thankful for every day.
Remember your victories
At some point in life, we all encounter letdowns and disappointments. Maybe people don’t meet our expectations or we don’t land the job after nailing the interview. I went through a period when I felt disappointed with an outcome I never expected. Because I felt God had let me down, my gratitude subsided.
As I began to rebuild my faith, I started reminding myself of the times in my life I experienced God’s goodness and faithfulness. On the worst days, it helps to recount my previous blessings. Staying grateful for what He’s done in the past reminds us that we can experience God’s goodness in our adversity. Although the holiday season has its challenges, we can recount the times we've been victorious in the past, and express gratitude for our wins...even in the midst of our losses.
What previous blessings bring you joy? How you can they help you remember God’s faithfulness this season?
Surround yourself with grateful hearts
Have you ever met someone who has gone through hell and back and still manages to appreciate life and maintain their attitude of gratitude in their crisis? What about the person who complains about everything, even the good things in life that most people would love to have? I learn more about cultivating a heart of gratitude when I’m around those who practice it consistently and freely give thanks no matter what’s going on.
Grateful people tend to be natural encouragers, as they can see the positive side of situations. I have such a deep respect and admiration for people who carry a song of praise on their lips at all times, especially during their darkest hour. It encourages me to foster a heart of gratitude in my own situations.
My mom described her chemo treatments as a “bump in the road.” I came across one of her devotional books earlier this year, and she always penned words of gratitude for strength, whether it was strength to make it to church or strength to run errands. Despite her chemo treatments and challenging days, she wrote:
“I am so thankful to God for every small victory. I am still able to take care of myself. I still have a sound mind, sense of humor and spirit of expectancy. I’m not in hospice or in bed...”
Whenever I read my mom’s words, I feel inspired by her attitude of gratitude during her challenges. She exemplified her gratitude in both her words and actions. I aspire to cultivate the type of gratitude she exuded. The kind that doesn’t wait for the dark clouds to break in order to give thanks. The kind that thanks God for strength in the midst of the storm despite the downpour. Her words continue to challenge me to cultivate a heart of gratitude during the good and bad times.
Who in your life exemplifies a heart of gratitude through their words and actions? Whether it’s someone you know personally or someone who inspires you through their work or books, opt to spend time this holiday season in the presence of those who show gratitude and appreciate life.
This time of the year can be challenging for numerous reasons. Maintaining a grateful heart fosters a positive mindset and keeps us focused on the blessings we have right in front of us. When we cultivate a heart of gratitude, we can rediscover everyday miracles and joy during the holiday season and beyond.
Psalm 34: 1 - I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.