giving thanks in all things, thanksgiving, gratitude practice, practising gratitude, thankful, blessed, grateful, the benefits of gratitude, why give thanks, gratitude in tough times, getting through difficult times, counting your blessings, count your blessings,

Giving thanks in all things, good and bad

Are you grateful for the experience of yesterday – or just thankful that it’s over? Not everyone is celebrating Thanksgiving (especially not worldwide), but even for those in the US that are celebrating, the holiday season can be a challenge, rather than a time of joy!

For some, it might be a reminder of what’s missing in their lives: while everyone else is posting photos of their family gatherings, they may be alone. The holiday season can be a time of loneliness, isolation and sadness. It might be a time for grief, broken families, or simply the physical distance that creates isolation.

The challenge is to find gratitude and an attitude of thanksgiving in spite of this. Throughout the Bible we find two references:

  1. a condemnation of complaining, murmuring and grumbling
  2. an exhortation to thanksgiving and gratitude

For example:

gratitude, appreciation, the power of gratitude, the benefits of being grateful

Science backs the value of gratitude

With more than a decade spent studying the effects of gratitude on the body, our relationships and our mental and emotional well-being, science has concluded that putting thanksgiving into our daily lives builds a better life!

Some of those benefits include:

  • saying thank you builds relationships
  • it improves your physical health and well-being – for example, the HeartMath project is constantly looking at the effects of gratitude and appreciation on your heart’s cardiovascular efficiency.
  • gratitude can improve your mental and emotional well-being, helping you to reduce any toxic emotions, and allowing you to release those feelings and thoughts that are simply passing through
  • you can improve your empathy through gratitude, as well as reducing anger and aggression
  • feeling grateful allows you to sleep better
  • you have improved self-esteem and confidence when you are grateful and appreciative of your own strengths and abilities
  • gratitude can even help overcome trauma

Celebrating the mundane

Gratitude and appreciation allow us to acknowledge the subtle pleasures of life. It’s taking a moment to stop and smell the roses, to appreciate the leaves of autumn, and to enjoy the aroma of cooking food. Just breathe the moment in.

When we allow ourselves a moment to appreciate all the things we have been taking for granted, we give ourselves permission to have greater clarity and joy. What is truly important in life?

Take a moment to open your eyes and see.

It’s not always about speaking our gratitude – sometimes it is simply being in the present moment and allowing ourselves to feel it. Truly feel the appreciation for this moment.

Just be.

giving thanks when life treats you bad, overcoming life's challenges with gratitude, an attitude of gratitude

Building relationships with gratitude

One of the powers of gratitude is that it can help you rebuild crumbling relationships, helping us to build closer relationships with loved ones. Even in our work or community, gratitude has a role to play in building better relationships.

Being thankful starts with becoming aware and appreciating what another person does and the strengths and benefits that they bring with them. Perhaps it’s as simple as noticing they always put the coffee on in the morning, and appreciating that someone is taking care of that.

When we are grateful, we recognise the value of the other person and the value that the relationship has for us. In turn, we do more for building on the relationship. As they feel appreciated, they begin to feel gratitude in return.

In the long term, gratitude leads to more openness in the relationship, which is essential for problem-solving, as you can trust the other person when a problem arises to work together with you towards finding a solution.

Giving thanks when life treats you badly

But what about when things are going wrong – when it appears that life as we know it is falling apart? Even then, we are called to be thankful and grateful.

Giving thanks in all things – in every circumstance

Sometimes life challenges us to let go of our expectations – of thinking that this is how life is supposed to be – and simply accept life as it is. We wallow in the thinking “life’s not supposed to be like this” and “this shouldn’t be happening to me,” failing to look at life as it is. Without judgement. Without expectations. Simply looking at the present moment as it is.

Not everyone in life will treat you fairly – but I remember years ago telling a friend I was grateful for the “pumice stones” of my life, that had polished me so that I could shine! It’s about learning to be grateful for the opportunity to learn patience and better communication skills.

Maybe this relationship and situation is the opportunity you needed to learn to stand up and speak up for yourself! Consider that it might be time that you stopped living as a people-pleaser, and started to live your purpose. Is this a chance for you to say “no”, and learn to do so with kindness, compassion and yet firmness?

Perhaps this is an opportunity for healing, even breaking lifelong or generational cycles of pain. Life may simply be offering you the opportunity to be the one that says that this no longer runs in my family! It stops here.

I’m not saying it’s easy – but look for the opportunities within the pain.

Giving thanks when you screw up in life

Sometimes it’s not that life has done you wrong – sometimes you are the one that messed things up. Can you find gratitude and thanksgiving in those moments?

We’ve all messed up. All of us fall short!

Whether you look at Elijah, Moses, Peter, David or Paul – all of them failed at some point! And some of them fell flat on their faces! A long, hard fall. Crushed by their own choices.

But can you turn this around and be grateful for the lessons you have learned through your mistakes? Are you willing to be grateful for having choices that lead you to make a decision, even if in the 20/20 vision of hindsight it was so obviously the wrong one?

Notice what you learned about making better decisions. What did you overlook that you will consider next time you are faced with a similar situation?

Be thankful for you had an opportunity to learn humility and forgiveness. Notice the grace and mercy that you have received, and the lessons in empathy that this gives you to give more grace and mercy to others when they make mistakes.

Take a moment and just be thankful for the mistakes and all their deep lessons.

gratitude when there's grief and heartache, the empty chair

Gratitude when you experience grief and heartache

Sometimes life presents us with an empty chair.

Even this is an opportunity to learn to grieve with gratitude. To be thankful for what was, and all the experience of loving that person. Learning to let go of the person and the expectation of “what should be” to simply accept the present moment of what is.

Life sometimes challenges us to find the little things to be grateful, even within our pain and loss. When you see a happy photo or a reminder, to acknowledge the loss in the present moment – and be grateful for that moment and memory in the past. To acknowledge all that you shared and dreamed.

It’s learning to acknowledge and accept the pain, grateful for the love that you felt and feel – it’s only because you got to experience that love that you are now experiencing the pain.

Sometimes, it’s just being present with the pain that reminds you “I am alive, and so I feel” – and being grateful that you feel, even if what you are experiencing are grief and pain.

Celebrating the wins

Sometimes we lose. But other times we win.

And when you win – give yourself the moment and the time to celebrate and feel the win as deeply as you feel the losses!

There is no guilt in having done your best and having achieved something great for yourself or for others! In fact, feeling gratitude and acknowledging your wins gives you more motivation and confidence!

Even the practice of noting down your wins – feeling gratitude for them as you do it – will help you notice what you have learned on this journey and internalise the lessons. Allow yourself to consider and notice what you had to do in order to achieve this – in fact, where did you go up and beyond what you expected?

Celebrate the skills you have learned that allowed you to achieve this new level, noticing the extra effort you put in that got you to this place.

Make sure that as you do this, you fix in your mind what it takes to win. Doing this will have the following effect:

Work –> results –> gratitude and acknowledgement –> increased motivation –> more work –> better results.

Allow gratitude to give you a hand on life’s journey.

Living in the awareness – gratitude

Being thankful is more than just saying thank you. It is living with an awareness – an appreciation – of the value of what you have.

It starts by looking in the mirror, and becoming aware of your own goodness and strengths! It is being grateful for the difficulties of life that have made you stronger and brought you to where you are today. Take a moment today to look yourself in the eyes – in the mirror – and say “thank you”. Feel it. Allow it to grow.

Take a moment to look at your life, with all the highs and lows, and appreciate what is happening for you and through you. Look at all the ways that life is moulding you – emotionally, mentally and materially. Appreciate all the ways that you have grown.

Look around you, at the people in your life — all the people in your life. Appreciate them.

Savour each moment.

Be present with the Presence of the Divine – acknowledging all that you truly have to be thankful for – each and every day.

Leaving the walls in ruins

Lectionary Readings:

  1. 2 Samuel 7:1–14a
  2. Psalm 89:20–37
  3. Ephesians 2:11–22
  4. Mark 6:30–34, 53–56

What was the very first thing you did this morning when you woke up?
Think… for a moment:  How did you set the tone for your day?
Did you smile?
Did you groan?
Did you pull the covers over your head and think, just a couple more minutes, pleeeease God?
Did you say a small prayer: “Thank you God: This is the day that the Lord has made, I WILL rejoice and be glad in it!”?

How were those waking seconds?
Now… delve a little further: What is your morning routine?

  • Do you stretch and get all those toxins out of your muscles and moving through the lymphatic system?
  • Breathe deeply and get the toxins out of your lungs and fresh air to feed the cells of your body for this day?
  • Do you break your fast with water to cleanse your digestive system? Add a slice to lemon to it to improve the taste and the cleansing effect?
  • Do you go for a walk, get on the treadmill, use a rebounder, elliptic machine, body shaker – anything to wake all the cells and muscles of your body and make sure the blood and lymphatic system are truly flowing and cleansing the body?
  • How about your mind? What do you do first thing in the morning to rid your mind of the toxic thoughts and attitudes you may have suffered yesterday and ensure that today is filled with love?  Before you went to bed last night – did you let go of the toxins of the day? Or did you take them to bed with you?

As usually happens to me on the internet, I was searching for more information about the God gene and I went off on this tangent of how to renew your mind, find peace, and connect with God.  And that lead me to this webinar[1] about “how to start your day right”.

I’d never bothered to think about the first action I did when I woke up, until now that is!

Let me make a vivid comparison for you:
I’m pretty sure my first actions are groan and think: “OKAY, gotta get out of the bed and take the dogs for a walk”; stumble to the closet and get exercise gear and get dressed, make my way to the kitchen to fix a cup of tea, search the house for my keys, grab the leashes, find my mobile and earphones, and get out the door.

All the while, Susy and Mercedes are, on the other hand, bounding round the house! She woke up!  GREAT! Ah, fresh air! Scenery! Companionship!  I’m so excited. I can’t wait to go!  Yes, we’re going for a walk.  The day has begun!
They exude happiness and joy at the start of a new day.  They live in the moment.

The webinar about how to start your day right got me thinking:
What is it about the day that I groan about? Why do I “complain”?
Do I feel “obligated” to take the dogs for a walk and resent it?
In fact, I actually enjoy it.
For an hour and 10 minutes I can shut myself off from the entire world, live in the present moment and only think about walking, the scenery, the dogs, the street, the trees, and morning…
To me, it doesn’t matter what the weather is doing. I’ve gone out in the pouring rain to walk the dogs.

I have other options – I could train the dogs to get up at 6.45 instead of 5.45… I could get up and put the dogs out of the bedroom and go back to bed, and Yari would take the dogs for a walk.  I don’t actually have to take the dogs for a walk every morning.
But that hour and 10 minutes of being out, breathing deeply, listening to my affirmations and meditations, is an essential part of my morning ritual.

The affirmations go something like this:
I joyously release the past, I am at peace. I forgive others and I set myself free from them. I forgive, and I let go of the past. I am forgiven, I forgive, I forgive others. I forgive myself and I set myself free from the past. I accept others for how they are, and how they are not. I forgive myself completely, let go of the past, and choose to live in the present moment. … I love and accept myself, exactly as I am now. I love everything about myself: I am perfect, whole & complete. [2]
I am in harmony with God, … I am always connected to my source, to Spirit, to God. I am one with all that is, and with the Power that created me, with Source, with Spirit, with God. The love, power, and presence of God protects & surrounds me, wherever I am, God is. I am the manifestation and infinite possibility of God. I live life in the present moment, in the now, in Spirit. My power is in the present moment, in my Source, in Spirit, from God. Who I am is Spirit, Source, God. … God is always present in my life. [3]

So… I have made a conscious decision, from now on, when I wake up, the first thing I am going to do is SMILE, and say “This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it”. I will stretch those muscles and let my body release the toxins; I will breathe deeply, while I’m waiting for the water to boil to make my tea, and drink that glass of water with lemon juice.  And THEN I’m going to put on my sneakers and go and enjoy that hour and ten minutes that I am so blessed to have that I can spend bonding with my two dogs, meditating and spending time with God; choosing to forgive and getting into the right frame of mind for the rest of the day.

I choose to leave the walls which God has broken down, as rubble; and more importantly, to clear away the rubble, rather than using it to build new walls.

Jesus, in Matthew 5:43-48 teaches us:

43-47“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. … When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

48“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

And so, in Ephesians 2:11-22 we read:

14-15The Messiah … tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped. Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody.

16-18Christ brought us together through his death on the cross. The Cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility. … He treated us as equals, and so made us equals. Through him we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father.

19-22That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. … You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, … God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.

Think of these walls that existed at the moment that Christ died:

  1. There’s the wall that kept the Gentiles from approaching the temple – marked by signs in both Greek & Latin – warning foreigners that they would be killed if they tried to enter further…
  2. Then there’s the wall that separated the males from the females – a gender wall, INSIDE the temple… right in the middle of God’s house!
  3. And inside that wall, there’s another wall, beyond which no lay person could pass.  Priests only from hereon in!
  4. And then there’s another wall – a curtain – that separated the holy things from the unholy.  Setting apart the Holy of Holies.

And yet, here we read in Ephesians that Christ knocked ALL of these walls down.  Jesus told us, and Ephesian repeats to us – there is NO ROOM for “us and them” in this new kingdom.  Everyone is welcome to come to God, to become spiritual beings, to have that personal relationship.

It’s interesting to notice that in the original Greek text, it doesn’t actually say the “circumcised” and the “uncircumcised”.  That’s a very politically correct translation. What it actually says in Ephesians is the “circumcised” and the “foreskins” – you know, that little piece of useless flesh that you cut off and throw away!  That’s what they were calling the gentiles.  Foreskins.[4]  It wasn’t merely a description.  It was a hateful slur against the new Christians.  Used by Christians to refer to other Christians.

One of the things we can learn from this passage of Ephesians is how our view of God and our relationship with God needs to be perfected.  Ephesians is about my identity in what God has done for me.  Paul calls me to be changed by Christ – but God Himself – to allow God’s spirit to work in me every day.  The debate about circumcision was about people changing themselves (physically) so that they could make themselves acceptable.  It contrasts our view: how God loves me just the way I am and God’s Spirit works to transform me; on the other hand: I must earn God’s love by changing myself to conform to man’s standard of what God wants of me.

Do I use hateful words, just as they were hateful in former centuries? Do I build walls?

Hostility, almost inevitably, goes both ways.  When a person is cruel and unjust, there is anger.  Cruel words lead to more cruel words, forgiveness is difficult.

We all know about walls.

  • The Great Wall of China – built to protect and to keep out the invaders.
  • The wall built in November 1940, by the Nazis, in Warsaw, Poland – to create a ghetto for hundreds of thousands of Jews to segregate them from the rest of the population of the city.
  • The wall built in August 1961, separating “East” and “West”, right down the middle of Berlin.  Separating families and friends.
  • A wall built in Belfast, Northern Ireland, to separate Protestants from Catholics

Yet, somehow, all of these walls are built on the foundations of fear, misunderstanding and hatred. We build these walls to protect us from being hurt, or being changed, or being vulnerable.  My wall feeds off your wall. When I come into contact with your wall, I build mine a little higher and little thicker.  Others learn not to be trusting or vulnerable when they run into my walls.[5]

So, Christ came into this world for the purpose of tearing down walls. It’s our job, however, to let go of the rubble.

Unfortunately, many of us see the pile of rubble that used to be the wall – we see that rock or stone that reminds us of the hurtful words spoken by another, and we use it as the cornerstone to rebuild a new wall. For cement, we’ve used the mortar of name-calling, labelling and prejudice.  Rather than understanding that we need to throw away all the rubble that is left from the wall, we hold onto it.  “I might need it later”.

This is not what we are called to do.  We all live in the same house – God’s house.

Ephesians 4: 31-32 call us to:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

1 Peter 3: 8-18 reminds us:

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For “Whoever desires to love life and
see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.

We have been given the gift of peace from God – but it’s hard to receive a gift if you aren’t holding out open hands to receive it.  It’s especially hard when your hands are busy clutching the bricks for building personal walls, especially those bricks labelled prejudice, bias and judgement.

We are God’s masterpieces, created by God to do the good works for which we were predestined.  God Himself is our peace – peace in the full sense of “Shalom”.  Not just the absence of animosity and outright fighting, but “shalom” in the sense of true oneness, wholeness and healthiness.  All roads to peace begin with God.

And to be one with God, to commune with Him, there is no room for personal or group grudges.  There’s no room for self-righteousness or holding on to hate or malice.  To be in harmony with God, we cannot break fellowship with our fellow man over differences in doctrine, liturgy, politics or controversial moral issues.  This is a denial of our oneness with God, which we have from Christ.

Christ tears down the walls – who are we to rebuild them?  Jesus abolished bitterness, unforgiveness, and unresolved anger. It chokes our fruitfulness, keeps up from growing and hinders our ability to truly pray and be in communion with God.

I started this morning, asking “how do you start each day?” Each day we have to make sure that we clean away any rubble left from the ruins of the walls that God has torn down.

The same way that we take the time to cleanse our body of toxins, we need to clean our heart and mind of the toxic materials that we used to build those walls.  The same way that we hop in the shower and let the water wash away anything that stains us, we have to let God’s love wash away all the stains in our heart.

Because we have this promise from God:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.[6]

And so we cry out each morning to God for cleansing:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.[7]

[2] Dr. Harry Henshaw – Affirmations for Forgiveness
[3] Dr. Harry Henshaw – Affirmations for Spirituality
[5] Beth Richardson.  From
[6] Ezekiel 36:26
[7] Psalms 51:10