How Gratitude is Changing My Heart

Confession time: I can be a real cynical and prideful sinner.

People have been telling me for years to keep a gratitude journal. And, in my flesh, my reaction was always something like, “my relationship with Jesus is deeper than just a superficial list of things that I liked during my day.” A little less prideful reaction would be something like, “I just don’t want to ever be more focused on the gifts God is giving me than I am on God Himself. I feel like only writing down things I’m grateful for would orient my heart that way.” Either way, I was convinced keeping a list of things I’m thankful for was too childish for my obviously spiritual mature ways. Ha.

Oh Maddie, when will you learn. . .

A few weeks ago, the Lord convicted me, through His Word, in my quiet time, through chapel speakers, friends, and mentors, that I was not keeping an attitude of thankfulness. The posture of my heart was focused on what I couldn’t control, things I felt like I’d failed at (or other’s had failed at), and the things the Lord was doing that I didn’t understand. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try writing down a few things every night, specific to that day, that I saw the Lord’s blessing in that I was grateful for. At the very least, it was an excuse to buy a new notebook and the worst that could happen is I would waste $2 on said notebook. And if it did turn out to be a source of joy and renewal, well then go Jesus.

Y’all. Gratitude is changing my heart.

I don’t say that lightly. And I know other, more eloquent and wise people have already discovered this, but seriously. It’s changed the way I approach the Lord when I journal about my day. It fights my tendency to overthink – because instead of freaking out over whether or not I should or shouldn’t have said something, I’m focused on the fact that I’m grateful for that friendship and unexpected conversation. When I’m frustrated at something small, I read back over the past few days and realize that my negative emotion is a temporary response to the messy world I live in. And, what’s even more amazing than all of that, is it hasn’t shifted my heart to focusing on the temporal gifts and blessings of the Lord – it’s led me into deeper places of trusting in His goodness and faithfulness. He’s teaching me to be grateful for things I don’t yet understand because I’m focused on His movement in the things I do.

The thing is, life is messy and it’s hard and people are complex and everything is unknown. And even if I’m trusting God, if I choose to focus on the chaos of my world, it gets overwhelming. I’m not even forcing my heart to be grateful – I’m simply letting it recognize what I have to be grateful for, silly or not. And gratitude leads me to joy and joy leads me to laughter. And, like lament, laughter points me back to the heart of Jesus.

I laugh when I do things like dropping my ID card in the toilet or lose it . . . in my room. I laugh when I forget that Chicago is the Windy City and I spend a whole tour holding my dress down. Or I have to give a “date” tour (which is just myself and a guy). I laugh when my heart chooses to feel like a middle school girl with a crush. Or my roommate and I stay up until 1 in the morning dying laughing over what songs were popular on the days we were born. I focus on the blessings, because they lead me back to the one who gives blessing. I let myself sit in the goodness of what the Lord is doing around me – whether it feels good or not.

There’s a lot of heavy things going on this week. On my campus. In people’s lives. In the world. In myself. Emotions have been high, tears have been welling up, and my heart hurts. And while lament is an inseparable part of my walk with Jesus and my life in community, so is laughter. I can’t stay in a place of deep empathy without becoming completely overwhelmed with my own helplessness and grief. And, hard as that is, it is so wonderful when it leads me back to a place of dependance on Jesus and His easy yoke.

I don’t know if any of that means anything to you or not – maybe you are way ahead of me on this race and have been letting gratitude change your heart for years. Wherever you are, let’s celebrate the Lord and His faithfulness together.

Just to give you an idea of how the Lord is moving and blessing this crazy, broken life of mine, here are some pictures of things that I’ve written down recently:

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