My mother-in-law taught me many lessons about gratitude which helped me to express gratitude in grief. She was my mentor and one of my biggest cheerleaders for the 12 years I cared for her before she died. While she dealt with congestive heart failure and painful neuropathy, she kept a positive attitude. Even when telemarketers called, she answered the phone, "Hello, Jesus loves you." Sometimes she would even ask about their prayer requests and pray for them during the call. She regularly found ways to put the needs of others before her own.
I asked her one day about how she stayed so positive. She shared with me a verse of Scripture from her well-worn Bible:
"Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
She told me she made a deliberate choice each day, no matter how she felt, to follow God's will for her in this. It was a revelation to me at that time that this was a choice to be made, rather than a "feeling."
As I began to put that into practice myself, when things weren't going well, I noticed I had a more hopeful attitude, rather than feeling discouraged. When I was without a home for a year in 2003, I began thanking God each night that I had a place to sleep in friends' homes. I thanked Him for the home He had for me in the future. I thanked Him that He already knew my address. Many years later I moved into my dream home and marveled that it had been built in 2003.
When my marriage ended, I thanked God that He was my provider and that He would be a husband to me. When I needed a higher paying job, I thanked Him that He already knew where I would be working and who my coworkers would be.
At each turn, I learned to trust that God already had a solution in the works. I may have been surprised by the turn of events that created grief and discomfort in my life, but He saw it coming and was already preparing my steps to walk into the gift He prepared ahead of time. It built my faith to thank Him in all circumstances. It changed my attitude from one of discouragement to hopeful expectation. Today, I regularly thank Him in advance for good things to come. However, I know that expressing gratitude does not always come easily when we are suffering.
I Don't Want to be Grateful
When I'm Grieving
The pain of grief is awful. Sometimes we have days when we are in bitter agony, longing for the life we once had; longing for the family that was once ours. The adjustment to accepting our loss and these unwanted changes to our lives can leave us feeling resentful, angry and unmotivated. There are times when we don't have the energy to make changes that would be beneficial to us. Grief is like that.
Ultimately however, finding a semblance of peace again with life will depend on our response to what has happened to us. Philip Yancy, author of Where is God When it Hurts, states, "When suffering happens, it forces us to confront life in a different way than we normally do."
“When suffering happens, it forces us to confront life in a different way than we normally do.” — Philip Yancey
If you are struggling with gratitude in grief, let me suggest some scientific benefits of gratitude that may help you take action in this area.
Brain Science Confirms the Benefits of Gratitude
Gratitude activates a
part of the brain in the pre-frontal cortex located in your forehead. Anxiety
activates the amygdala, in the center of the brain. According to
researchers, when you activate your pre-frontal cortex with gratitude,
either spoken or written, it shuts off anxiety. What a powerful tool to
bring ease to our minds and bodies.
The researchers also found that
writing down statements of gratitude can improve our ability to handle
stress, help us release toxic emotions, and reduce symptoms of
depression as well as anxiety. An attitude of gratitude can even reduce
pain and improve sleep!
As I learned these things I began to
wonder, "How can I NOT give thanks in all circumstances? It is so
beneficial for our well-being, especially when going through grief,
distress, and painful circumstances.
Expressing Gratitude in Grief
Here are some journaling prompts to help you develop a habit of expressing gratitude in grief:
- Make a list of 50 things for which you are thankful.
- What will you do to make gratitude a habit in your life?
- To whom can you express gratitude?
- What have others done for you that you appreciate? If you are alone, consider services that you receive such as from the mail carrier, the clerk at the grocery store, the repair personnel who fix things in your home, etc.
- Surprise someone with a thank you note.
- Pray, thanking God for His presence, His promises and His help today.
- Do an internet search about gratitude. What other benefits can you find to having an attitude of gratitude?
- What are your biggest challenges around expressing gratitude in grief?