7 Ways Gratitude Helps Me

I walked into the garden section of a popular hardware store near us and looked for tomato plants. I found them–tiny wisps of leaves. I asked “Aren’t there any bigger than this?” But no, that’s what they had.

Don grew a lovely crop of tomatoes on our deck last summer, so I bought three small plants–a Roma and two cherry tomatoes. None were more than three inches high.

We’ve watched them grow almost daily. It’s been such fun to see them–six inches, nine inches, then a foot tall. Their growth has been phenomenal until now, about six weeks after I purchased those little seedlings, they are a good five feet above the planter–and wide–and we see bunches of green tomatoes developing.

Note the tallest shoot is above Don’s head and he is 6′ tall!

It seems like a miracle that these tiny seedlings have grown noticeably almost every day since I brought them home.

So how do we grow in our walk with God, especially in these turbulent times?

Gratitude is one aspect of our growth. Like many, I have gone through cycles of faith, fear, depression, and angst over the past months.

I’ve been through difficult times before.

I lived in the inner city of Los Angeles for ten years and had dear African American, Hispanic, and Asian friends. But I and the women with whom I lived and ministered were also threatened with dismemberment and death. I recall fearful nights going to sleep praying, “Lord, I don’t know whether I’ll see you face to face in the morning, or will have another day to live, but I am yours.”

1970’s staff photo

I faced anguish when I lost my first husband to death.

I grieved at the losses of a nephew, my father and most recently, my mother.

But God’s view is so much higher than mine. He sees the big picture. He sees what will draw people to Himself. And His love is so great He sacrificed His only Son, Jesus, to become a man, live among us, die a cruel and heartless death at the hands of false accusers, and rise again. And this God, who loves us with unlimited, unconditional, unending love has commanded us to thank Him in every situation.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I Thessalonians 5:16-18

The late A.W. Tozer, American Christian pastor, author, magazine editor, and spiritual mentor, said “A thankful heart cannot be cynical.” And how easy it is for me to become cynical in this time of racial and political unrest, where I can’t have my faith-friends come alongside me to sit with me and challenge my wrong thinking during those cycles of fear.

Dr. Rick Hanson has studied the happiness factor.

The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones.

Dr. Rick Hanson, Neuroscientist

So if, as Hanson attests, it takes five good interactions to make up for one bad one, we need to be people of gratitude, persons who notice and thank God, not only for the blessings He has given but also for the opportunities to grow which are inherent in difficult times.

One way of increasing our “attitude of gratitude” is to keep a gratitude journal. The UC Davis Emmons Lab has studied effects of such journaling extensively and found that those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis experienced a host of benefits: (see https://www.dailycal.org/2015/03/06/happiness-keep-gratitude-journal/).

  • They exercised more regularly.
  • They reported fewer physical symptoms.
  • They experienced better sleep quality and duration.
  • They felt a greater sense of connection to others.
  • They were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals.
  • They had higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, and energy.
  • They felt better about their lives as a whole.

Perhaps instead of fearing the future, we can ask questions like these.

  • What do You want to teach me?
  • What do I need to change? What attitudes or biases do you want to root out in me?

And then thank Him.

  • Thank Him that He is in control, and that nothing happening in this world is surprising to Him.
  • Thank Him that He loves you completely, fears, joys and all.
  • Thank Him for this opportunity to learn more of what it means to rely on Him day by day, to trust Him for the future.
  • Thank Him that He wantw to teach us what is good and honest and just and pure and lovely, and to change our hearts accordingly. (Philippians 4:8)
  • Thank Him that He is a good, loving Father who has promised never to leave nor forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5)
  • Thank Him for family and friends who love and encourage and challenge and strengthen us.

I want to be like those tomato vines on our patio. I’m going to start a gratitude journal. Want to join me?

2 Responses

  1. Karen O'Connor says:

    Thank you, Carol. I love the photo of Don and the tomatoes. So beautiful to see how God’s creatures grow under the Lord’s loving hand–whether tomatoes or human beings. I wrote a book on gratitude in the 90s “Basket of Blessings: 31 Days to a More Grateful Heart.” It remains one of my favorites of all the books I’ve written because giving thanks then became an essential part of my daily life. It keeps cynicism and fear at bay and ignites trust and love.

    • carolnl says:

      Karen, I’m glad you like the photo of Don and his “beanstalk” tomatoes! I started my gratitude journal last night and look forward to ways focusing on gratitude will change me! You are a grateful person and I love that in you. I appreciate what you said about “it keeps cynicism and fear at bay and ignites trust and love.” Thank you!

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