At 40 years old, and after suffering through a church split, I was hit head-on by a drunk driver, and suffered back and knee injuries. My friends thought God was directing the demise of my life--punishing me for leaving the church of my childhood. Fear of God kept me searching for a safe church to raise my kids in. I found it at the invitation of my oldest daughter, Kristen, who wanted to join a Methodist youth group at the invitation of a friend. My three daughters began enjoying relationship with peers and God in a new way, while I sank deeper into depression and fear.
That next Christmas, my thoughtful and perceptive daughter, Kristen, gave me a devotional book. I wanted to throw it across the room. I left the book in places where she might see it and think I was reading it, however, I had no such intention.
One day, as I picked it up, it fell open to a specific devotion entitled: Let Gratitude Change Your Life. I laughed incredulously and began reading. The author recited scriptures about counting your blessings, giving thanks in all things and rejoicing always. I wanted to puke. Then, out of an angry heart, I took on the challenge of the devotional: To journal 5 things I was thankful for each evening before going to bed. I was going to prove this simplistic principle to be impotent and inept!
At first, only laments—ugly feelings of grief and anger came forth—gratitude eluded me! Instead of grateful notations, I ended up jotting down notes of anger, fear, anxiety, blame, shame, guilt, jealousy, envy, depression, frustration, etc. It took me 2 years to fill that journal book. In my (blind) perfectionism, I believed I was journaling my gratitude. (One piece of this challenge was to agree not to re-read your journal until finished with the entire book).
What I found is that gratitude is a gift resulting from the freedom I have in Christ (to give God my pain, helplessness, hopelessness, worthlessness, etc). As I gave those ugly feelings to God, the void was filled with amazing, unending and unwarranted grace-filled vision to see God, myself and others more clearly.
Non-gratitude believes I can do things myself—but it’s God’s fault when things don’t work out as I expected! Gratitude believes God can and will do for me, in his perfection--what I can’t do for myself—so I will let him, and be grateful in advance for His constant goodness.
God preveniently led me to vent/lament, as we see in Psalms, Lamentations, Job and even in the Garden of Gethsemane. At some point, my pent up steam was exhausted. I had not been able to see through the fog/veil of my disappointment in unmet expectations of God, others and myself.
Consequently, my prayer life was changed from asking and waiting for my will to be done, then thanking God for doing what I asked, to trusting him to see my requests perfectly and to respond in and through his grace.
By the end of the two-year journey through my gratitude journal, my life was turned around. It happened at a slow and unsteady pace. As I was freed from emotional and spiritual upheaval, I became more thankful and was blessed to receive more to be thankful for. I was not on anti-depressants; I had a friend who introduced me to a God, who is good; and I had begun the journey of living like I am loved, cherished, chosen, empowered, significant, and safe, and all from a place of sound-mindedness. God graciously transformed my angry, spiteful and ungrateful feelings and opened me up to the height, depth, breadth and width of his great love for me and you, for which, I am profoundly grateful.
Scriptures for Reflection:
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
—Lorilee A. Immel
Lorilee is an Odyssey in Christ spiritual director, currently pursuing her doctorate in Formational Counseling at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, Ohio.