By Amanda Cleary Eastep
As the days grow colder and closer to change in my life–
children stepping outside the radius of a mother’s embrace,
the loss of income that helped put a roof over our heads,
separation from my daughter as she leaves for the mission field–
emotions rush beneath my skin, which I wear loosely like a rubber Halloween mask with those misplaced eye holes that keep you from seeing oncoming traffic…and all the goodies you have collected.
It’s not like I’m enduring some tragedy, just change and challenge.
So why do my weeks read like a Psalm–going from lament to praise, peaks and valleys over the terrain of a single day?
I asked my husband to pray for me one morning, and that prayer seemed to invite a flood of messages from the universe as if in answer to the muffled cries of Why? What’s next? What’s the plan, God?
A simple exercise to increase well-being and lower depression
First, the Brain Pickings article “A Simple Exercise to Increase Well-Being and Lower Depression” caught my right eye (the only one lined up with an eye hole at that moment) that expounded on the book Flourish by Martin Seligman, the founding father of positive psychology.
Through what Seligman calls the “Gratitude Visit,” one can perform a simple exercise that “promises to enhance your well-being and lower your depression.”
“Your task is to write a letter of gratitude to this individual and deliver it in person. The letter should be concrete and about three hundred words: be specific about what she did for you and how it affected your life. Let her know what you are doing now, and mention how you often remember what she did. Make it sing!”
For several weeks, I had a lovely blank card addressed to my cousin sitting on my desk. Now was the perfect time to write my note and mail it. Inside the card, I tucked a post I had written following my family’s visit to his home in August.
This simple act inspired me to lift the mask and suck in a breath.
Gratitude is an action verb
But this wasn’t the only lesson about gratitude I received. Our pastor read a quote about the best Christian being a thankful one. Not the generous Christian or the least sinny Christian, but the one who is grateful in all things. So, not the one tossed by waves of change Christian? Darn.
The following week was the same with the reading of Psalm 100, David’s “Thanksgiving Psalm.” I loved the wording in The Message version. “Get on your feet…Sing yourself into his presence.”
While Seligman’s exercise is described as being “rooted in decades of…acclaimed research,” David’s “simple exercise” has proven effective throughout centuries; yet both admonish us to move into thankfulness actively and with a song on our lips.
Beside another Psalm in my Bible, I jotted a list back in 2004. That was the year I read a Psalm daily, each chapter serving as a knot in the long rope I used to pull myself through the next 150 days of the worst time of my life. On the day I read Psalm 37, I noted everything the psalmist urges us to do.
They are all verbs.
Which means thankfulness is an act, not a passive emotion.
Being thankful isn’t about sitting around waiting for so-called blessings to rain down on us like sparkles at which point we look up into the ray of sunshine over our head, smile, and wistfully whisper, “Thank you, Jesus.”
Nope. Gratitude can take work.
It isn’t always a feeling, because sometimes things just suck that bad; or they don’t, yet for whatever reason, we’re trying to cross the street wearing that sweaty, rubber mask with the tiny eye holes, and we don’t feel like saying “thank you” let alone feel thankful.
But this morning, as I was finishing this post, my daughter–the one preparing for five months of missionary work–stood over me, took both of my hands from my keyboard, and prayed for calmness and purpose in my life. She thanked God for me.
And I felt challenged to act…to do good and commit and not fret and rest and wait and trust.
Then I lifted the mask and told God thank you.