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Thankfulness not just a saying

“We would worry less if we praised more. Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction.” — Harry A. Ironside

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

By the time you’re reading this, two days after Thanksgiving, I’m probably still slumped over in a corner somewhere in a relentless turkey-and-gravy coma, happy-sick from overindulgence.

But I’m trying to be thankful.

My family’s Thanksgiving tradition — probably like most families — has everyone say what they’re thankful for this year, going around the table and each person listing at least a few things.

You hear a lot of sweet things: Thankful for family, thankful for our homes, thankful for friends, for health, for stability.

The tradition leaves everybody feeling warm and grateful as they start to feel full on the bird.

But I’ve come to realize over the years that saying what you’re thankful for once a year around the Thanksgiving table isn’t enough.

You have to feel it all the time, and that’s a very hard thing to do.

My family prays before every meal, and, every day, a good chunk of those prayers thank God for the things he’s brought into our lives — family togetherness, financial stability, food to eat, a roof over our heads.

But even that’s not enough.

Sometimes, immediately following those prayers, the dinner-table conversation turns to the stressors of the day. A bad day at work. A frustrating encounter with someone in the community. Trouble with our cars. An unexpected bill. A family member acting in some way we don’t appreciate.

Something.

It’s so much easier, for some reason, to focus on those negative things. They come off the tongue quickly, almost without thought. The negative things stick in our hearts and simmer in our guts and gnaw at us all day long, crowding out the good things.

I don’t know why God made us that way, but I think it has something to do with the fact that he wants us to be disciplined, and it takes discipline to overcome negative thoughts and focus on the positive things in our lives.

You see, thankfulness can’t be just something we say. It has to be something we do.

We have to overcome all the bile of the frustrations and heartaches in our lives and really focus on the soothing balm of gratitude. We can’t just say the things we’re thankful for, we have to live out that thankfulness by feeling it warm in our souls and concentrating on it instead of the cold agony of stress.

It takes effort, like flexing a muscle.

Sometimes — and I’ve lived in such seasons — it’s hard to even think of something for which to thank God.

Sometimes, the ache is great, all-encompassing. Sometimes, everywhere we turn, we see pain. Broken families. Loss. Anger. Maybe bills are piling up but the money’s not there for them. Maybe a negative person is nagging at every corner of your life. Maybe you have health problems or job problems or family problems, or maybe all three.

But the truth is that, if you’ve got breath in your lungs, you’ve got something to be thankful for. Even if it’s just the chance to fight one more day, there can be gratitude there.

But you have to act. You have to flex that muscle to feel that gratitude.

Like flexing a muscle over and over again, I think it becomes easier over time. It can become a reflex, instead of just a flex.

So, this Thanksgiving, I vowed to try to focus on thankfulness every day. Not just to say it, but to feel it. To let the gratitude rise up in my chest and to overcome the anxiety and to sit on my soul like a roof over my head, protecting me from the rain of torment.

I vowed to crowd out the negative thoughts with positive ones, to not dwell on the bad things in my life but to actively dwell on the good things.

I’m hoping I can work that muscle enough that it becomes second nature, that I eventually discipline myself to think that way always.

It will be hard.

But I’ll have one more thing to be grateful for if I can pull it off.

Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-354-3112 or jhinkley@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.

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