What Do I Do When All Looks Bleak?: Hope for a Worried, Worn Out Warrior
The afternoon is almost over and nothing of any substance was accomplished today! Why? Because it seems I allowed myself to be “taken out” by listening to one who gave me a report about her life that I just cannot hear right now! Following that conversation, I was seriously overwhelmed by the “what-ifs”! Have you ever been trapped and felt like you actually can't move forward due to the pain of carrying the woes, worries, and warts of others? They seem strapped to your back like baggage that weighs too much and keeps you from putting one foot in front of the other!
I certainly have. As a mother of seven adult children (and their spouses), coupled with twenty grands and five greats, there is ALWAYS SOMEONE who I can fret about. Even worse than that, at times, I find I can be down-right paralyzed. I remember the days that I literally couldn’t seem to gain victory over my thoughts, as they consumed what felt like every available part of my brain. Whatever or whoever it was I was worried about totally occupied all my precious moments, and I would fall into bed at the end of the day absolutely spent.
“Trust me when I say, having a life of gratitude has the potential and the power to transform our hearts and the hearts of those around us.”
As a woman who loves Jesus I DO have other options. I definitely have a choice! I act like I don’t at times. “Why?” I wonder, out loud as I write these words right now? “Why on earth would I waste my minutes and hours allowing negative thoughts to stampede through my mind?”
Jesus tells us in His Word how we are to handle thoughts that bring turmoil, pain, and worry with them! There are so many things we can do about this. In future posts we will touch on ways to handle our thoughts that are troubling us.
But TODAY I want to share one simple, daily joy that has helped me TREMENDOUSLY over the years! I’ve been doing this since 2008 and I am keenly aware of its potential and power to transform even the biggest “Eeyore” mentality!!
And that is the JOY of keeping a Gratefulness Journal.
It’s been a healing, encouraging, strengthening gift to me and may I add, to those I love. It has transformed the way I view the ones I care for and interact with day in and day out.
When we begin to THINK of and LIST the reasons we are grateful, somehow it causes us to see with new eyes.
When we’re regularly expressing gratefulness in prayer to the Lord for our family members and friends, and we find ourselves faced with difficulties or frustrations, living in an attitude of gratitude makes it so much easier to hold our tongue. It’s been my experience as I pray for my husband, Bobby, and deliberately look at the ways he blesses my days, it’s easy to let go of any frustrations I may have at the moment.
There’s a well-known cliche I truly try to live by: “Pick Your Battles!”
Nit-picking flies by the wayside when we look through a lens of gratitude! Freedom from frustration, followed by joy, is the blessing I receive! I just feel so happy when I keep my mouth SHUT!
Focusing on reasons we’re grateful…stopping to count them as we feel irritation beginning to mount…deliberately switching gears…thinking about the faithfulness of God now and in days gone by…these are the ways we’ll win the victory over worry, fear, frustration, irritation, and the what-if’s!
The following Scripture has been one of my go-to portions of Scripture for decades. It’s helped me so much when my ability to see clearly has been hampered.
“Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me-everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the peace of God will be with you.” Philippians 4:6-9 NLT
I just want to encourage you now to stop what you're doing and look around your house for a notebook. It doesn’t have to be anything special. When I first began, I made a section in the journal I was already using. Surprisingly, I quickly filled it up, so from that time till now I’ve kept my Gratefulness Journal separate from my daily journal. I write in it EVERY DAY! Sometimes even just a word or two! Like “SUNSHINE~YAY!!!” Try it! I promise you won’t be sorry you did!
You may remember Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts? When that came out, I read it and took her challenge and began a journal of 1,000 reasons I was grateful. The journal has been lost and found a couple times and it appeared again in January 2019. I’ve been working in it every day since then. I’m up to 510 reasons I’m grateful. On a draining day, I like to pick that journal up (or any of the others I have filled over the years) and read through the hundreds of reasons gratitude fills my heart.
On a particularly hard day, when my mind is filled with anything but gratitude, I may write something like this:
“Today I’m grateful that I know one day I’ll be feeling grateful again!”
Surrounded by the beauty of this amazing earth, birds filling the air with song, leaves on trees changing colors, snow falling, our woods filled with wildlife all around us, and thousands of other beautiful things God has provided, I find myself beginning to wince at my ungrateful attitude. As my focus changes, joy begins to replace my negative mindset!
Let me close with two very quick stories that were told to me decades ago. One was by Elisabeth Elliot, and the other was a story about a man I don’t know.
When Elisabeth was a child, she must have been complaining and battling with her attitude and a little depression (not in the sense of the word as we know it today). Her father, in his wisdom, told her to take a sheet of paper and go into her room and begin to write all the reasons she was grateful. She followed his instruction and continued writing for a whole week! She said the negativity and depression that was clouding her dear heart as a child was lifted!
As many of you may remember, Elisabeth Elliot faced the loss of her husband and four other missionaries in 1956 when they were martyred in Ecuador ministering to the Auca Indians. Through even that, Elisabeth had come to a place of trusting God and saw His faithfulness in her darkest hours.
Do you suppose that the writing exercise her Dad gave her so early in her life may have been the start of her not only guarding her heart and mind from negativity, but also what framed her future for a life-long writing ministry? The result was many wonderful books that have strengthened the Body of Christ for decades now!
My final story is about a man many years ago, who was suffering from depression and was actually hospitalized. Someone came to visit him and made the suggestion that he begin to think of and list anyone in his life that had blessed him in any way; that he would write letters to each of these people and in the letters, thank the person for how he or she had blessed him and benefitted his life.
Following this person’s suggestion, he wrote many letters over the course of the next several days. One particular letter he wrote was to his first grade teacher, thanking her for the impact she had made on his life. When she received it she wrote him back said that she taught school for over 50 years and never once had she received a letter thanking her for her impact as a teacher.
She expressed such gratitude to him it affected him deeply! He realized, through her letter, the vital importance of gratitude and expressing it to others. He was able to leave the hospital soon after and in the future became a pastor! This and many other (even personal) stories all show the power of walking out our days with gratitude!
In closing I want to really encourage you, if you're not doing this already, to begin this simple exercise! As I choose to look at each of my family members through the eyes of gratitude, any struggles I may have (and believe me we’ve had our share) seem to take their rightful place. I realize afresh that each one of them are so precious to me.
I cannot lose sight of the fact that each one of my family are God's work in progress.
I have the privilege of blessing them by speaking LIFE to their dear hearts, no matter what frame of mind they’re in. I have a responsibility to show His love. The easiest way to do that, especially in difficult seasons, is by soaking my own heart in prayer.
So today was one of those difficult days for me. Just by writing this post, my spirit was totally lifted and my focus has been restored. Trust me when I say having a life of gratitude has the potential and the power to transform our hearts and the hearts of those around us. So make your list! Write your letters! Start your journal! And then sit back and watch your own dear heart lift and fill! It’s amazing actually!
On this journey together, Deb