This is the next in my series of posts on crafting a rule of life. Those of you who have been following this series will be interested (and maybe a little sad) to know that I am probably going to wrap it up after next week’s post. However, I’ll continue to add to my rule of life and will probably blog about it from time to time in the future.
Two weeks ago I wrote about the three hours I spent in solitude, meditating on my struggle with anger and how, with God’s help, I can implement practices into my life that will help me to become less angry and more gentle. One of the action steps that came from that session was to begin writing daily in the thankfulness journal that I started last summer during a Bible study on Ann Vosskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, a book I heartily recommend. Like thousands of other Christian women who have read the book, I chose a beautiful journal (mine is a handcrafted one from Nepal, with a colorful woven cover and soft, fibrous pages) and started making a list of things I’m thankful for, with the eventual goal of reaching one thousand. Like thousands of other Christian women, I faithfully wrote 2-3 items daily for a few weeks and then petered out, starting and stopping again sporadically throughout the year whenever I happened to notice the journal under a pile of other books.
As I mentioned in my solitude post, the authors of Taking Your Soul to Work connect anger (the sin) and gentleness (the fruit of the spirit) with surrendered contentment (the outcome). After I recognized this unexpected connection, I decided that picking my thankfulness journal back up and making it a habit this time could be an effective strategy for becoming more content with the gifts I have and thereby feeling less compelled toward anger about what I don’t have and/or can’t control. Too, writing about those seemingly out-of-nowhere gifts that come to me more often than I usually notice (e.g., a good conversation with a friend whom I “happened” to walk by when leaving a blood drive early after an unsuccessful attempt to donate) may help me see how good it is that I’m not in control of every minute of my day.
Keeping a thankfulness list isn’t just for angry people, or for women, or for people who have been inspired by Ann Vosskamp. It’s for anyone who wants to rewire their brain circuitry to look for good things. (There’s real science that says you can actually do this; maybe I’ll write a post about it sometime.) And it only takes a minute or less to jot down a few items every day. This practice can also be done with other people. My family has a now-threadbare journal that we’ve pulled out every Thanksgiving since 1991 to record what we’ve been most thankful for during the previous year. Reading our entries aloud together has led to much laughter, many happy tears, and deep fellowship with each other and with God.
If you think it sounds cheesy, have you actually tried it? It won’t change you into a different person overnight, but it will gradually train your brain–and your heart, and all the rest of you–to see gifts where you didn’t before.
If you have experience with keeping a thankfulness list, or if you have ideas about how you might incorporate this simple discipline into your life, let me know in the comments!