I hate passwords. What frustrates me is that they all are different: some are four characters, others eight; some require letters and numbers, while others require symbols. I have a notebook full of passwords. It seems to me that the only person that a password keeps out is me. How wonderful that an emotional connection with God is not so complicated. We can always remember the simple password that God has created in order for us to remain connected to Him through the trials that come our way. That password is gratitude!
I have been reading the book "Joyful Journey" by Dr. Jim Wilder and other contributing authors. The book explains scientifically and spiritually how gratitude opens us up to the presence of God. The book states that "gratitude is the easiest and fastest path to connection with God." God, in His loving wisdom, has given us repeated and strong commands to be thankful. We are told to "give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thessalonians 5:18) The short letter to the Colossians mentions thankfulness seven times. In fact, we are exhorted repeatedly throughout the Bible to give thanks. Much more than nice suggestions, these commands reveal God's wisdom and loving desire for us to remain in a state of peace and connection to Him throughout all of our struggles. When making his case about the sinfulness of mankind in Romans 1, the apostle Paul singles out ingratitude to conclusively make his point that mankind is unrighteous. It appears that the overarching sin that reveals our rebellious state against God is ingratitude.
In my personal journey, I have struggled immensely to remain grateful during my trials. It seems to me that gratitude is the first thing "to go". The unfortunate consequence of this decision is a lack of awareness of God's presence with me during my trials. As Christians we are not just called to suffer, but to suffer well. The key to "suffering well" is to remain aware of God's presence with us during our struggles as was modeled for us by Jesus during his final hours before his death. Unfortunately, many of us have the tendency to pull back from God and from others when we are suffering. This can cause our pain to evolve into trauma.
The path to recovering the desperately needed connection to God is gratitude. Dr. Wilder explains that "when we keep practicing gratitude our brain remembers what our connection with God was like making it easier for us to find out way back to Him. Our brain is "plastic" in the sense that it is capable of changing throughout our lifetime. Practicing gratitude repeatedly tends to become a habit and increasingly easy to do over time."
Gratitude is not circumstantial. If it were, God would not have commanded us to give thanks in all circumstances. In fact, my personal experience observing others has illustrated for me that gratitude has very little to do with circumstances. Some of the most grateful people that I know have gone through tremendous trials; others with seemingly wonderful lives are very cynical and negative. This should be good news for all of us! The simple decision to be grateful has tremendous power to change our lives. We need not be slaves to the difficulties that come our way. In His wisdom, God has given us a path to peace and freedom-GRATITUDE!
I have been inspired by this book to make some personal decisions about gratitude. Dr. Wilder recommends a practice called "Interactive Gratitude". This practice involves three steps:
1. Writing down specifically what you are grateful for in a narrative form.
2. Writing down in narrative form what you believe God's response might be to your gratefulness. (Much like a parent would encourage a young child in their feeble attempts at gratitude)
3. Reading aloud these journal entries to trusted friends.
Our tendency is to have a one way relationship with God where we talk to Him but focus very little on what He might be telling us. The exercise of focusing on what God might be telling us increases our connection with God. Many of our problems come from not having a picture of God as a loving, affirming father that is right there with us encouraging us during our struggles. The above picture is me at a young age. That little guy is at peace, and that little guy is connected to Mom and Dad. That little guy believes that whatever problem occurs, Mom and Dad are with him. Life has brought many challenges in the "50 something years" since that picture was taken. The same confidence that I had in that picture can still be a reality today. A life filled with gratitude shared with others and God will keep that smile on my face. May God give me the strength to follow through!