Author: Heather L. Melton, United Thanks Offering Staff Officer
Often at UTO we say thank you for what happens in your life; notice the presence of the Holy Spirit at this time and offer thanksgiving. This advice asks us to stop and pay attention, because as humans we are often so stuck in all the negative and painful things that we can miss the good things. So, if you have mastered this step of noticing good things, I want to invite you to join me in trying something new: thank you for how things happen and bring us to the point of good things.
In August, I read the book “Burning: The Secret to Unlocking a Stress Cycle,” by Dr. Emily Nagoski, and Amelia Nagoski, DMA. stopping stress. They specifically outline two ways – gratitude for who you have in life and gratitude for how things happen. For me, this second tool was a new idea and proved to be really useful which I am trying out, so I want to share it with you.
Gratitude for how things happen requires us to choose one event that we were grateful for during the day and to dissect it a bit through the diary. This is like taking advantage of the moment when you have noticed a good thing and then going back to it to see all the effort that has been put into achieving that good thing. They suggest the following steps:
- Give the event a title in your diary. This can be as simple as what you noticed and thanked earlier in the day.
- Write down a detailed account of the event, from start to finish. Pay attention to who was part of the event, what they did or said (including you) and how they contributed.
- Describe your feelings as you go, and then your feelings after thinking about the event.
- Explain how this event came about – what came together in your life to make this event happen?
- Be careful that negative thoughts do not overwhelm the process; keep your attention on the things you were grateful for (p. 210).
I then add a step back with a marker and marking people’s names or small moments for which I was especially grateful. I also want to note that the event could have happened without stress or struggle. For me, this is part of learning – often moments of deep gratitude are born out of stress and struggle.
Let me share an example, hoping to inspire you to join me. A few weekends ago I was baking bread. I waited a little longer than I needed to start, so I went through the recipe. I used the “faster” method of measuring glasses instead of weighing the ingredients. When the dough was done, it was in a bowl like a stone. I mentioned to my husband that I think the dough is wrong (it bakes more bread than me) and that I am really frustrated. He tried to save the dough while I was working on something else. When I looked at the dough later, I realized it was probably just ruined and I didn’t have time to wait and see. So I threw it out and grumbled as I started making a new one. I am sure that this moment will probably be included in the long list of items for my husband’s saint.
When I prepared the mixer for entry again, one of my daughters came in and asked if I would teach her how to make bread. She loves bread so much that she will literally eat the bread herself. Although I was frustrated, stressed and angry at myself for trying to use shortcuts, I said yes. And slowly, as I walked her through the process, I felt calm. I started enjoying the project instead of just trying to finish it.
When it came time to knit the dough, I decided to weigh it for the first time and make sure each rope was the same (this turned out to make the process completely easier, and, as my husband lovingly said, I’m not Paul Hollywood, so the weights are dough a bit out of my league). In the end we got two beautiful, delicious cakes. My daughter was not proud of herself, and I moved from resentment to a deep place of gratitude.
I share this story because if I had just done a notable job, I would have just thanked you for the wonderful bread and a nice dinner. Instead, writing it all down and emphasizing, I could notice that there is much more to be thankful for, including my husband, who tried to help me when I was nervous and made me laugh by comparing me to Paul Hollywood (who I think is amazing), and my daughter, who just wanted to learn. If I hadn’t written that, I wouldn’t have noticed them. I would also miss if I proved to be a better version of myself in the second attempt. I would miss that this story is not about a loaf of bread at all, but about how much my family loves me and I love them. (Although she was not interested in baking bread, the other daughter was full of praise, compliments and love with every bite; it is really good for me to feed my family in a way that evokes enthusiasm and praise.) There is so much that happened outside of baking that is important here. God appeared in many ways, and all of this would have been lost had I not taken the time to notice and give thanks for the ways in which things happened.
Now I try to do it every day, just take a moment and write, remember the good things that happened. So far, this practice means that I have been able to more quickly break the stress I feel as a mother of small people during a pandemic, becoming curious about how to deal with stress during it, not in the end. Can you remember the event you were thankful for if you were able to walk backwards, it was actually a series of moments of gratitude and struggle that all came together? I guess you probably have one or two things like that a day like me.
I offer all this because I know that many of you are currently carrying a lot of stress, be it a pandemic, the economic situation, work, family, care and more. While I don’t think gratitude will solve all of these things, nor do I recommend “silver plating” them (https://brenebrown.com/videos/rsa-short-empathy/), I recommend immersing yourself in them to see that there are gifts in the middle toga. Looking at these tiny streaks of light in battle reminds us that we are not alone in stress nor has God left us to it. These rays of light are a reminder that we are God’s letters of love to a broken and hurt world, and so are the people around us. We are truly created for one another, and when we stop noticing how things happen, we are often reminded of the deep gift of love that God gives us, one over the other, through the movement of time and through hope, grace and love planted in our hearts.