It happens way too often. One bad thing strikes…a bill revealing you owe more than you thought, someone who gave you an unpleasant tone on the phone, a kink in your schedule. It’s something that really doesn’t matter, but it opened a flurry of emotions like a can of warm soda that’s been shaking all day long. That one bad thing causes you to backdate a list of negative things that have built up to this point. Suddenly you notice a pattern that results in finding the negative in your life more often and with greater ease, while the good and beautiful become mindless recognitions with little to no meaningful attention or gratitude. Whether you’re a person of faith or not, this is no way to live. You know this probably, but perhaps don’t know how to get out of the ditch.
I’ve always hated cute little catch phrases that oversimplifies life.
Choose to be happy.
Just give it to God.
Count your blessings.
The problem with these little self-help, money-making clichés is that while they tend to be helpful techniques, they are techniques for maintaining a happiness that already permeates, not for the people stuck in the mud. If someone were to, say, be going through the disarray of divorce, how does one choose to be happy? Or just give it to God? Or count their blessings? They’re broken, and no catch phrase is going to magically remove that pain. Ironically these people, if open, are in a position to experience the power of God’s redeeming power; where they know that they couldn’t have manufactured their own joy. It must have come from another source. For this reason I have religiously avoided these condescending so-called solutions.
But recently I’ve been challenged to revisit the regular discipline of counting my blessings, particularly when I feel that anger and negativity bubbling up. In James Bryan Smith’s book The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows, he suggests that as picking out the negative comes so easily, we just as easily overlook the blessings of life. So he lists them. Big ones, small ones, it doesn’t matter. He lists them because he’s decided to be intentional about seeking the beautiful in his life. As he encourages this to his readers, he says:
“Each day God is at work providing for us, even though we cannot always see it. This exercise is aimed at helping you see ‘the widespread mercy’ that is so much greater than the ‘black blot.’
Keep adding to your list each day. Strive to make a list of fifty things. Then keep going! See if you can come up with one hundred blessings, things you are thankful for, this week. You will likely end up with, as George Buttrick called it, a ‘vast treasure.’ Most of us are accustomed to waking up and thinking about our problems. This exercise will help us shift our focus away from the few things that are wrong to the many things that are beautiful and wonderful.”
So I tried this, and I was amazed at all the things I forget to thank God for, the things that matter, the things that are beautiful in my life. And when I catch myself ranting in my mind over the negative, I’ve found that counting my blessings actually counteracts the pessimism and replaces it with a quiet joy. I’ve harped on this before, but this is another reason why I don’t get the “prosperity gospel.” Should we really suggest that God hasn’t given us enough, shown us enough of Himself? And should we demand that God prove Himself yet even more by giving us stuff because we somehow don’t have enough? It doesn’t just sound wrong in this light, it seems illogical. Try being intentional about counting your blessings and let me know how it goes.
“Surely you have granted him unending blessings
and made him glad with the joy of your presence.” -Psalm 21:6