Choosing Gratitude: Your Invitation to Transformation

Years ago, if someone had asked me, “Are you a grateful person?” I think I would have scored myself “above average” on that front.

Thanks, in large measure, to parents who insisted that the next order of business after receiving a gift was to write a thank-you note, the importance of expressing gratitude was impressed on me from my earliest years. Though I didn’t always appreciate it at the time, I’m grateful for that training today.

Over the years, I have sought to make gratitude a way of life. And I have experienced many of the blessings that accompany the “attitude of gratitude.”

However, I’ve learned that if I’m not vigilant about rejecting ingratitude and choosing gratitude, I all too easily get sucked into the undertow of life in a fallen world. I start focusing on what I don’t have that I want, or what I have that I don’t want. My life starts to feel hard, wearisome, and overwhelming.

At times I allow myself to get pulled back into that dangerous current. A lack of gratitude manifests itself in fretting, fuming, complaining, and resenting—whether within the confines of my own thoughts or, worse yet, through venting those thoughts to others.

But in those moments when I find myself gasping for air, feeling that I’m going under, I’ve discovered that gratitude is a life preserver. Even in the most turbulent waters, choosing gratitude rescues me from myself and my runaway emotions. It buoys me on the grace of God and keeps me from drowning in what otherwise would be my natural bent toward negativity, doubts, discouragement, and anxiety.

Room for Gratitude

Who will ever forget 2020? The coronavirus pandemic, masks, and shutdowns; sheltering in place, social distancing, and working from home; church, store, restaurant, and school closings; canceled sporting events; Zoom meetings and online classes; racial tensions, riots in our cities, and social justice wars; election battles culminating

in an assault on the U.S. Capitol Building . . . these became part of our everyday lives and vocabulary. People were left feeling isolated and on edge. Tempers flared in supermarkets and on social media. Depression, anxiety, and suicide rates spiked.

In the midst of all of this unsettledness, my strong, healthy husband was diagnosed with not one, but two unrelated cancers. First melanoma, then non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It took several weeks to get the second diagnosis. We waited as one test after another ruled out more serious diagnoses. Had one of those materialized, I might have ended up planning a funeral by year’s end (as many others did, sadly).

Over the course of ten months, this precious man was subjected to seemingly endless needle sticks (by his count, more than a hundred), blood transfusions (sixteen), surgical procedures (three), biopsies (three), scans (eight), chemo treatments (six), hospital stays (two), trips to the emergency room (two), and countless doctor appointments with fifteen different providers.

Between COVID and cancer, I can assure you there was plenty of opportunity for discouragement and fear. When Robert started chemo in the fall, I asked the Lord to show me how to encourage him through what I knew would not be an easy road ahead.

We decided to start a “gratitude wall” in our sunroom overlooking the St. Joseph River. I ordered an assortment of brightly colored sticky notes and put them in a basket with pens of all different colors. At the end of each day, we took a few minutes to jot down two or three reasons for gratitude—mercies and kindnesses we had received from the Lord and others that day. Some were simple blessings—only one stick for today’s blood draw; a sunny day; a friend who dropped off a meal. Others were more consequential—a negative test result; one more chemo treatment checked off; no nausea . . .

Day after day, we posted those bright little notes first on one wall, then on the adjoining wall, then a third—until there were hundreds of them papering our sunroom. Our gratitude wall became a gratitude room. Each time we walked by that room, we were faced with a colorful reminder that God is good and that we have far more reasons to be thankful than to worry, grumble, or be afraid.

 We resolved that we would be thankful for each good day He gave us, and that if and when harder days came (as   they did), we would give thanks for those, too. Even on the most difficult days of that season, intentional gratitude   infused us with unexplainable peace and joy. This daily rhythm of giving thanks steadied our hearts. It became our default   and displaced thoughts and emotions that could have cratered us. Purposing to be thankful helped us resist the temptation   of becoming self-absorbed during this ordeal.

 On the last day of 2020, I placed several   sticky notes in our gratitude room with   Scriptures that had sustained us through the   year. I posted a picture of them on social media with this caption: “We don’t know what 2021 will bring. But our hearts are anchored to these unchanging truths. So we will continue giving thanks and counting our blessings. No. Matter. What.”

A Powerful Secret

In my book Choosing Gratitude, I encourage readers to choose gratitude, first and foremost because it is the only fitting response to a good and gracious God who has delivered us from our guilt.

But choosing gratitude makes sense for lots of other reasons, too.

To a significant degree, your emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual well-being, as well as the health and stability of your relationships with others, will be determined by your gratitude quotient. Cultivating a thankful heart is a safeguard against becoming bitter and prickly. 

If you find discouragement, depression, fear, or anxiety among your frequent companions, you may tend to attribute them to difficult or painful circumstances that surround you. But I want to suggest that as challenging as your situation or your season of life may be, your frame of mind likely has less to do with your distressing

circumstances than with your need for a thankful heart. 

How else can you explain those believers around the world—spanning from ancient times to the present day—who scrape by with less than most of us can fathom, and whose days are perpetually beset with trials and tragedy, but who nonetheless manifest irrepressible peace and joy?

The spiritual discipline of gratitude can help us avoid losing our footing in these difficult days in which we are living. Looking for evidence of God’s hand at work in the midst of the turmoil and being overwhelmed with gratitude will keep us from becoming overwhelmed by what is going on around us. 

Think of how many times in Scripture—particularly in the book of Psalms—we’re exhorted to give thanks, to praise the Lord, to sing to the Lord. And consider how many of those passages were penned by someone in dire straits. This recurring biblical call to be thankful people points to a powerful secret.

Gratitude is not something that can be dismissed as a “second tier grace”—it is foundational. And it is transformational. A grateful spirit, rooted in the soil of God’s goodness and grace, will radically impact how you view and respond to everything in your life.

Over time, choosing gratitude means choosing joy. But that choice requires constantly renewing our minds with the Truth of God’s Word, setting our hearts to savor God and His gifts, and disciplining our tongues to speak words that reflect His goodness and grace—until a grateful spirit becomes our reflexive response to all of life.

Just before we pillowed our hearts one night during our cancer journey, Robert held me and prayed, “Lord, I want to have chiseled into my gravestone: ‘He had a grateful heart.’”

That’s what I want for me; it’s what I want for you.

This article was adapted from the preface to Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2021). Used by Permission.

What’s the next step on your gratitude journey? Requesting the Gratitude That Sticks Set from Revive Our Hearts will help you find out. The set includes Nancy’s book Choosing Gratitude along with a pad of custom “I choose gratitude” sticky notes to help you express your gratitude and an instruction card with plenty of ideas to get you started. We’d love to send you a copy when you give a gift of any amount to the ministry today! After you’ve requested your set, get a tour of Nancy and Robert’s gratitude wall in this special video

About the Author

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through two nationally syndicated radio programs heard each day—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him. Her books have sold more than five million copies. Through her writing, podcasts, … read more …

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