Living life with gratitude has not come easily for me.
I know I should count my blessings, but sometimes it’s just easier to count my miseries. It comes more naturally. And miseries capture my thoughts and interrupt my days more readily than blessings.
But counting my miseries seems to shrink my soul, and in the end I am more miserable than when I began.
Counting my blessings may be arduous at first, an act of obedience rather than an overflow of joy, but in the end it opens up space in my heart.
When I choose to focus on what I have been given, rather than linger on what I’m missing, I feel happier. More content. Less agitated.
And when I choose to face my miseries directly and find blessings in them, something miraculous happens. I view all of life differently. I see my circumstances through a lens of faith. And I am able to declare with confidence that even in the worst of circumstances, God is still good and there is much to be thankful for.
The Pilgrims did just that.
For years I pictured the first Thanksgiving as a joyful celebration of a bountiful harvest, sharing with the Indians God’s abundant provision in a fertile new land.
But celebrating the first thanksgiving was an act of faith and worship, not a natural response to prosperity and abundance.
In the fall of 1620, the Mayflower set sail for Virginia with 102 passengers on board. On December 16 they landed in Massachusetts, far north of their intended destination, just as winter was setting in.
This northern climate was much harsher than Virginia’s, and the settlers were unprepared for the cold season ahead. Winter was harsh and sickness was rampant. Shelter was rudimentary. Food was scarce. People lay dying.
All but three families dug graves in the hard New England soil to bury a husband, wife or child. By spring of 1621, half the Pilgrims had died from disease and starvation. Many crops did poorly and starvation was commonplace. No one was untouched by tragedy.
And yet in the midst of these monumental losses, the Pilgrims chose to give thanks. They saw in Scripture that the Israelites gave thanks for all of God’s provision, for His deliverance and for His grace.
And so they did the same.
In the fall of 1621 governor William Bradford declared a day of thanksgiving toward God. They prepared a great feast for the colony and the Indians who had helped them.
The Pilgrims chose to be grateful for what they had rather than focus on all they had lost.
They had to look for blessings. Actively and deliberately. Their thanks was not based on pleasant circumstances but rather on the understanding that God was to be thanked in both prosperity and adversity. Their gratitude was not a positive thinking façade, but rather a deep and steadfast trust that God was guiding all their circumstances, even when life was difficult.
The Pilgrims viewed their lives through a lens of thankfulness.
That lens changed everything.
A close friend of mine is a photographer and she sees things I would never notice. We can both drive by an old faded barn, and I see a dilapidated building in need of paint while she sees a beautiful weathered structure with character. She focuses on unique angles and lines, observing intricate details that I don’t even see.
She’s willing to look past the obvious. And she pays attention to detail. My friend ends up with breathtaking pictures of scenery that I would have passed by. All because of what she chooses to focus her lens on.
In the same way, the way I view my own life is dependent on what I choose to focus on.
From some angles it looks like a mess. But from other vantages, it is beautiful.
My perspective all depends on where I direct my lens.
Several years ago, when I was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome, I was devastated. The doctors told me that my diagnosis meant ending the life I was accustomed to and starting a whole new life.
A life where I did less and rested more. A life where my arms were to be used for essentials and using them to paint or scrapbook or cook was foolish. A life where dependence on others was necessary and independence was a way of the past.
This new life was excruciating.
I didn’t ask for this life and I certainly didn’t want it. I saw nothing to be thankful for; all I could see was loss. And I was miserable.
It seemed everything I loved doing was taken away and I was left with nothing that brought me joy. Connecting with people, showing hospitality, creating beauty were what inspired me. And all of those outlets were gone.
Yet it was out of this challenging loss that my online writing began.
In the same week, three separate friends encouraged me to start writing. They all felt led to tell me after prayer. So I prayed about it as well. And God seemed to confirm their words.
I never aspired to be a writer. I certainly didn’t feel gifted as one. Up until then, my only writing had been my private journal with the Lord.
But nonetheless I started this blog two years ago, mainly out of obedience.
It didn’t require physical effort since I could use voice-activated software to get my words on the screen. I could do it at my own pace if I was exhausted. And I could connect with others without ever leaving my home.
It has been a tremendous blessing and privilege to share with people what God taught me in the darkness.
I would never have chosen this path myself, and from certain angles my life looks bleak.
And yet from other angles it is beautiful. I see God using me. I am grateful for all He’s done in my life. And I am excited about the future.
When I view my life with the lens of thanksgiving, I can see how much I have to be grateful for.
I don’t know what this Thanksgiving holds for you, but I can promise you this: The One who holds you is guiding all your circumstances. And for that assurance, we can all be thankful.