Fill Your Heart With Gratitude
April 21, 2020
It has been a week since my last email, and I hope this one also finds you safe and well. In my last email, I invited you to pause, breathe, pray, and find gratitude. I know this can be easier said than done, especially with the last request. Last week, I shared my gratitude in the reduction of pollution due to the shut down, and my gratitude for hugs to come. But ongoing gratitude can be difficult during these times. So I would like to share my experience with you about gratitude.
In 2013, I had returned to Neumann University to finish my Master’s in pastoral care and counseling. A few years later, I was doing my internship at Mirmont Treatment Center for alcoholics and drug addicts. Since it was my first day on the job, I was mostly just observing various activities that were going on. I dropped into a lecture about ways in which to change the chemistry of the brain in a positive way. One of those ways was through practicing gratitude. The counselor told about a man who had decided to write things he was grateful for a year without repeating any items. I was amazed that anyone could find so many things for which to be grateful. I soon forgot about the lesson as I got very involved with my internship.
Then about a year ago, the lesson came back into my mind. I’m not sure what exactly propelled me to start a gratitude journal (Holy Spirit?), but I did. My first day, I wrote pages and pages of obvious things for which I was grateful. After a few days, I slowed down and committed to write down at least three things every day I was grateful for. I kept this up for many months, only taking a break when I had surgery on the hand I use to write. In the meantime, I shared this practice with a friend because she was in a dark place and could not see anything good about her life. So I made a deal that each day I would text her (with my left hand) the things I was grateful for, if she would text me her list. We have been doing this now for six months. The other day, she complained that she was running out of things to list. So I invited her to do this exercise:
Pick an everyday activity and as you go through that activity notice everything you see, touch, and hear. Then write your gratitude list. The activity I shared with her was waking up in the morning. When I open my eyes, I am grateful for sight. When I hear the birds sing, I am grateful for being able to hear, as well as for the beautiful sounds of the birds. When I lie in bed for a few more minutes, I am grateful that I have a bed with sheets, blankets, and a pillow. When I get up out of bed, I am grateful that my body can move enough to do this, that my legs can hold me up. As I move around my home, I am grateful that there is a finished floor to stand on instead of a cold dirt floor. I am grateful that there is a roof over my head and heat to keep me warm. I am grateful for my toilet and toilet paper and clean running water, furniture, my coffee cup, etc.
So the above list comes out of just being mindful for about five minutes of all that I have in my life. Imagine if I did this exercise for a half hour! Well I have and I have written all the things I have been grateful for in my gratitude journal. I am up to about 75 pages and I have not repeated any item on the list. The result? My heart is full every day, even when my circumstances are difficult. I can still feel sad, angry, or frustrated, but all those feelings are diminished when I remember to be grateful. And if I forget to be grateful, all I have to do is read my gratitude journal. It has definitely been worth taking the time to write all the things I am grateful for in a journal. This is one journal I hope to pass onto my kids when I am gone. The others, I have already destroyed.
“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
In peace and love,
Cass Rulon-Miller, MS, NBCC