It’s the week of Thanksgiving and many of us are already planning for Christmas. I’ll admit, my tree is up because I really cherish the ambiance of the light, and although the new LED’s can be a bit bright – it’s is better than the dark. We even got out outside stuff up, and mostly connected because I live in Wisconsin and who knows when the snow might come and it’s much easier to do when you only need a sweatshirt on and not your winter coat.
I’ve made it a practice for some time now to start my day with time with God and in my journal that always begins with “I’m grateful for…” And usually it’s a short list and it more about people than things. It used to be just names because the journal I used to use only had a small spot for that, but now that I’m using a blank journal I’m free to write as much as possible. Still, I keep it short. But now if I mention my husband I might list some of the aspects of who he is that blessed me especially, perhaps even the day before. For instance: silliness, hugs, I enjoy spending time with him, listening, encouraging… You get the idea. Sure I might even thank God for material blessings of a warm and safe home, or even something as basic (and important) as sunshine and food to eat. The possiblities are endless.
Often times I will do a longer list of names in my journal with specific prayer requests for those people–but again it is because I am grateful for them. Sometimes names appear of people I haven’t spoken to or connected with in a while. That gives me perhaps a reason to put them on my notepad nearby to call, email, message, or arrange a coffee date. As I grow older I’m recognizing that people and time with them, is important.
And yes, I do thank God for tasks I’m able to accomplish! Sometimes I get in my own way (thank you depression and ADHD) of accomplishing my long list of things to do.
All this can be a great way to start the day and have a more positive attitude. You’d think anyway.
Depression can still take the joy out of that even as I fight to not dwell on perhaps uncomfortable emotions that simmer underneath the surface and need to be dealt with. I’m still growing in my ability to do that. To sit with the hurt, anger, frustration, sorrow… Sure sometimes those emotions need a converstation, but I’m learning to go to God with those first. Sometimes I feel a desperate need to be comforted but have no desire for a conversation. Depression is a nasty bugger that way.
So I fight for gratitude, and joy. Daily. Because the natural bent of my personality is to be critical and focus on the negative. Part of that makes me a good editor, and made me a good therapist and leader. My goal was to help people solve their problems, help them by identifying what the problem is.
Ah, but the healer can’t heal herself.
When I worked in the mental health field in Milwaukee, years ago, I did mostly case management of chronically mentally ill people. Take depression and add 100% with other issues and we helped these adults function in the real world. They were on disability and my goal was to help them stay out of the hospital. Most of the time I did fairly well with this goal. At times I did one on on counseling with individuals.
One gal, I’ll call Wendy (not her real name) was seeing me. She was the client of another Case Manager. We met weekly for counseling and I had her keeping a journal of things she could be grateful for. I thought we were making progress in our sessions.
Then one day she didn’t show up. I tried calling. No answer. I checked with her Case Manager who reached out. No answer. Then we got the news. She had jumped from the window of her high rise apartment building. Obviously, she didn’t survive. Why did this come to me today of all days? I don’t remember for sure when she did this it was sooo long ago now. But I do remember the punch to the gut. I felt like a failure. What none of us had realized was buried way back in her chart, long before any of us had met her, she had suicide attempts. Sure, both her Case Manager and I were checking to see if she had any suicial ideation or plan, but those with chronic mental illness know what telling the truth about that will mean. Hospitalization.
I was a glutton for punishment. I attended the funeral. I was stunned when the priest spoke about how they found her gratitude journal and read some of the things she had been grateful for.
The journal I had asked her to write in.
All of those things that should make life worth living–didn’t keep her from making that final fatal choice.
Why? Even today I ask why? Maybe because we focus so much on the outward things to be grateful for and not the inner things. My own therapist said to me, at our last appointment, “Susan, I don’t think you give yourself credit for the things you do well.”
She was right. I don’t. Do you? It sounds selfish to focus on the things we are doing well, or perhaps even the things God allows us to do well, or the way we see Him using us in His perfect plan to help others.
This hit me today as I was doing my own “I’m grateful for.” Yes, as we head into Thanksgiving, take time to thank God for all He has done for you. But also thank Him for how He is working in you, and using you. It’s OK to brag on God’s work in your life! He created you, designed you, loves you, and delights in you! It’s acceptable to spend time reveling in that truth.
The gal I had counseled wasn’t a believer in Jesus Christ that I was aware of and I couldn’t share the gospel with her in that setting although many of my clients understood from the way I treated them, just how much I loved and served the Lord. But could refocusing that journal just a little bit, to help her see how wonderfully created she was by a God who loved her, have made a difference? I’ll never know.
I’m grateful God keeps teaching me new things. I pray He never stops and look forward to an eternity of learning and growing to love Him better. Perhaps this will help you. What things do you need to give yourself credit for? How is God growing you and using you? Perhaps this Thanksgiving, along with Thankging Him for the people around your table, or the food, and a warm home… spend time thanking Him for His work in and through you. It might make a difference.