Throughout my 27-year marriage, my husband has encouraged me to get away at least once a year. I typically drive to a friend’s cottage, heavy laden with more books than any human could possibly get through in three days and spend my time reading, walking along the beach and praying. It restores my soul and resources me to re-engage with life.
The following scenario may or may not have happened. I return from my mini-sabbatical and walk into a chaotic house. The dishes have piled up, the laundry has not been done, the dog has vomited in a remote corner, and strangely, no one else has noticed. In that moment, I have a choice. Will I become indignant and express my disappointment? Or will I hug my husband and be thankful? I confess I have not always made what seems to be the obvious, best choice. When I choose poorly, the benefits of my time away instantly vanish.
Thankfulness does not come naturally to me. I relate to the complaining Eeyore more than the effervescent Tigger. The last time I followed the above script, it became painfully obvious that my proclivity toward complaining was adversely affecting my marriage and my parenting. (My husband had been aware of this problem for a long time.) Because I believed in the power of the Holy Spirit to help us change, I embarked on a process to train myself toward gratitude.
Gratitude is directly connected to our ability to trust in God’s love and to remember his faithfulness. For some of us, no matter how many times we read of God’s love, sing of God’s love or are told of God’s love, we still harbor doubts. We’ve been abandoned, abused, lied to, or betrayed so many times it feels impossible to trust God or others. It’s important for us to pay attention to those doubts because if we ignore them, we will not be able to ferret them out of our system.
One of the ways we can exchange the enemy’s lies for God’s truths is by speaking Scripture out loud. If you struggle to believe in God’s goodness and faithfulness, try praying the following passage every day (or as frequently as possible) for one year:
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39, NIV).
Because God understands the human tendency to doubt and forget, He commanded the Israelites to set aside seven times a year to recall His faithfulness. This includes Passover, when God spared His people from the angel of death, and Purim, when He spared His people from genocide through Queen Esther’s courageous actions. Because the Christian tradition lacks holy days specifically for giving thanks (and because we tend toward consumerism), we have to be intentional about developing thankful hearts and expressing gratitude. One afternoon, a friend and I committed to sit together and simply thank God for any and every gift we could call to mind. Our impromptu praise went on for almost two hours.
Having a thankful heart shifts our perspective off the mundane—the dishes, the diapers, the crushing disappointments—to the reality that we have life and breath and a God who saves. Though I’m aware of this transcendent reality, I struggle to consistently stay in a posture of gratitude. Gratitude requires effort. Complaining seems effortless. Before I’m fully awake, I can grumble to the Lord about my frustrations regarding lack of sleep, my ongoing health issues and the annoying songbird that starts her day at O’dark thirty.
Or, option B, I can wake up and praise God that I can still walk even though I can no longer run or swim. I can thank Him that I have food in my house even though I can’t eat croissants or pizza (due to celiacs). I can thank Christopher for going to work every day and for giving me the space to write. Over the past two years, as I have been making an effort to choose option B, I’ve discovered a few things. True gratitude purges bitterness and nips any feelings of entitlement. It also opens me up to possibilities rather than causing me to tunnel in on my losses. When I discipline myself to choose gratitude over complaining or faultfinding, not only does my spiritual life improve, so does my marriage. Having a thankful heart helps me to be more like Tigger and less like Eeyore. And that’s something that everyone around me can be thankful for.
This article is excerpted from Making Marriage Beautiful and is used by permission from David C Cook.