When I was thirteen my best friend and I thought it would be fun to make a list of 100 things we loved. For a month or more I had my piece of paper ready to add new favorites whenever I encountered them. Movies, books, sports, holidays, and foods made the list and one night in a backyard tent my best friend and I shared them with each other. 100 things we loved. 100 things that made us happy. 100 random things in this life that we wrote down as favorites.
When I was a senior in college I began a gratitude journal, inspired by Ann Voskamp as many others have been. I’ve counted several thousand gifts now, and claim to be thankful because of those lists.
But sometimes I have paused to think about the little books I am filling. Are these lists and lists of blessings anything more than favorites? Favorite parts of the day, favorite attributes of my husband and friends, favorite drinks at the coffee shop. Is this actually gratitude or is it a book of what I like about life?
The difference may seem small, but the affect that these habits can play out in our life in tremendously different ways.
When I am merely counting things I love I am doing nothing more than personal introspective meditation. It is all self-focused. What I have, what happened in my life, what I makes me happy, why my day can be considered good. Optimism and looking for the good side can be helpful to a positive outlook on life to be sure. But there is only so long you can sustain a Pollyanna lifestyle. A couple hard blows and dark days can quickly overshadow any of the bright spots. If I am me-focused as I look for my blessings in the days of bounty than I am me-focused when disaster comes.
So why did I still pull out my little brown journal this morning and write down the gifts of the day? Why do I still spend time daily counting blessings if all it is making a list of favorites? The answer lies, as all seem to do, in the heart’s focus.
Every time I get out my pen and open up my journal I can be focused on one of two things. The first is a narrow visioned focus in which I look at the people, events, and items in my day that make me happy and make my life enjoyable. This recipient focus can make life more positive but is unstable, like standing on thin ice. I few hard knocks and the foundation to your optimism cracks wide open.
The other focus I can choose for my heart is that of the Giver. I can make the same list, with the same list of blessings, but by directing my gratitude towards the one who gave it I am no longer concentrated on how it fills my life. I instead am rejoicing in the one who gave it to me – our Father in heaven, giver of all good gifts.
The turkey is in the roaster. Mashed potatoes on the stove and coffee ready to be brewed. The feast is about to be served and we will be invited to sit at the table. As is tradition in most homes and families you will be prompted to give thanks. Sure, we all have something to be grateful for. That’s really not the point. The question is really Who will you give thanks to?