Have you made a bold claim or shared an audacious vision? Did you gulp after you said it and realized now you need to make good on your word or feel like a fraud? That’s how my journey toward gratitude started.
The Journey before the Journey
On November 13, 2020, I wrote a provocative article about why gratitude matters. I wrote it to prepare myself for Thanksgiving, but I also knew intuitively it was something I needed to think about more deeply.
At the end of the article, I whimsically said, “So I’m wondering who wants to join a 90-day Gratitude Challenge?” I gave a few details on what I promised and forgot about it.
Almost immediately, several people said they wanted to join me. My wife got excited and started inviting dozens of her friends. Before long, there were 50+ people in a private Facebook group.
Internally, I thought, “What have I got myself into?” But I knew there was no turning back.
I decided this was the perfect time to launch “7 Minute Prayers,” an audio devotional I’ve been wanting to do for two years. I also committed to writing a daily article and include some kind of daily challenge and prayer.
“I don’t care how you feel!”
I shared my plan with my Friday morning prayer group. When I finished, my friend Roger looked me in the eye and said, “I don’t care how you feel, you will finish this challenge.” He went on to say, “even if you get COVID,” which he predicted I would. Every week, he just looks at me and says, “I don’t care how you feel.” Last week, he said it at least five times! He’s serious. And so am I.
What Roger knew was that I’ve allowed myself to get off the hook from some of my audacious goals by allowing sickness to become an excuse. Roger’s words rang in my ears on several mornings when it would have been easy to quit.
“Published is better than perfect.”
When I got started, I knew I couldn’t worry about doing it the right way or I would never hit Publish. So I just started doing the minimum work necessary to publish the article, the podcast, and a Facebook post. Beyond that, I was trusting God to work in me and through the algorithms of the interwebs to reach the right people.
The Journey toward a Book
At the outset of this journey I would say I was an unlikely suspect for writing a book about gratitude. But after just thirty days, I realized this would be my first book (or series of books). Not because I’m an expert but because I need to write this book for myself.
What’s been happening in my life?
While I’m only two-thirds of the way through the challenge, I see profound changes happening. Frankly, I’m sitting here in tears as I think of all the things that have occurred.
7 Changes on My Gratitude Journey
Here are seven things I’ve seen change in me as I’ve been going through this challenge:
#1: Gratitude is ingrained as a daily habit
Gratitude used to be something I did because you’re supposed to add prayers of thanksgiving before you ask God for stuff. I had more spiritual-sounding reasons, but that was the orientation of my heart and mind.
During this challenge, I now start and end every day in prayer, and I’m seeing that my prayers have become more thankful and more specific. When I’m shopping, I’m far more likely to express thanks to the clerks and waiters. I stop to speak words of thanks to my team, my wife, and friends.
I’m not perfect, and I still become critical, ungrateful, and anxious. But I see this habit developing, and I don’t want to go back.
#2: I’m less stressed over life events
Whether the global pandemic of 2020, major health issues (I broke my wrist and couldn’t write for a couple months), or financial concerns, I’m finding gratitude has become a saving grace. I meet regularly with a counselor to work through some trauma I’ve experienced, and he’s told me several times that he sees how this journey is saving me.
A pastor friend told me he didn’t know how I’m handling all the stresses I’m under, and I told him this gratitude challenge came at just the right time. I would’ve buckled otherwise.
#3: My mind is being renewed
In Romans 12:2, the Apostle Paul says to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” As a Christian and former pastor, those are words I’ve heard for decades, but now I understand much more personally how what we choose to think about does rewire our brains. If we feed our mind with good news, thankful songs, and affirmations, we will slowly change the way our mind responds.
As an example, before this journey, I would have responded to criticism by either hiding in a shell or attacking the other person. Now, I find myself stopping, pausing, and finding reasons to be thankful for the other person, believing that they really have my best interests at heart.
Additionally, through the process of writing, speaking, and singing thankful thoughts, I’m seeing synapses firing that have been dormant for decades. For example, just a few months ago, I couldn’t focus enough to listen to something being read. Now, I listen to ten chapters of the Bible every day. I don’t remember everything, but I often can trace threads that surprise me.
#4: I’m becoming a writer
In fifth grade, Mr. Sanders allowed us to grade ourselves. Being an honest person, I knew my weakness was writing, so I gave myself all As and a C in writing. He agreed.
I remember very clearly taking a class my freshman year in college where the professor asked me if I had taken the required writing class yet. He said I really should. I vowed at the moment to pick a major that required as little writing as possible. Economics was the fit, and I came close to being a math minor.
Nobody told me I was a good writer until Dr. Wayne Martindale, my writing professor, unlocked my brain through daily journaling. He told me to forget about grammar and just write for thirty minutes. Something clicked in that process, and I started to get people telling me they enjoyed reading my letters and articles.
But I still didn’t believe I was a writer. In seminary, I had professors tell me that I would one day write books. I thought, “Yeah, right. Children’s books, maybe.”
I work for a world-class copywriter, so I’ve always been hesitant to consider myself a writer. I’m certainly not a copywriter, but this gratitude journey has released a flow of ideas that I can’t help but communicate.
With that background, you can imagine how shocked I was to hear my new editor, Jennifer Harshman, tell me that I’m one of the rare authors that don’t require a lot of edits. I still don’t want to believe her, but I’ve had several others say the same thing.
After writing for 64 days in a row, I don’t want to ever stop. I know gratitude will help me stay humble in the journey.
#5: Grateful people meet people more easily
I’ve always enjoyed connecting people. Nothing thrills me more than helping someone meet the right person or find the right resource. I love watching someone discover their true passion and gifts.
But I often feel shy and hesitant. I’m highly introverted and usually doubt whether I have something to offer. But as I grow in gratitude I find that I’m less concerned with what others think. I still care, but I’m less concerned.
As a result, I’m meeting lots of amazing people through this journey. The Clubhouse app started becoming popular during this challenge, and I’ve gone “on stage” a few times and met some very interesting new people, some of whom have already become friends, allies, and encouragers.
#6: Singing is more a part of my life again
I used to lead worship in churches but stopped at the end of 2016. Since then, I only sing once a week in church, and I can tell my voice isn’t what it used to be.
But through the Gratitude Challenge, I’ve begun listening to a gratitude playlist I created. Now I sometimes sing along. More significantly, I’ve begun writing songs for people, and I’ve put myself out there by singing those songs live on Facebook. I wouldn’t have done that three months ago.
It’s not that I suddenly have a better voice. Instead, I have songs in me that I want to share.
But I’ve discovered through this journey that singing profoundly changes the brain. The idea of having more serotonin and oxytocin sounds like a good reason to keep singing.
I also remember that God sometimes sends singers out to do battle. I don’t want to miss out.
#7: I feel closer to God
For nearly twenty five years, I could have been considered a professional Christian. By that I mean that I earned at least part of my income due to my faith. Dr. Richard Pratt, one of my seminary professors, liked to quip,
“When you make your living with your faith, you’re likely to lose one or the other.”—Dr. Richard Pratt
My life verse is Acts 13:22, which says, “I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart. He will do everything I want him to do.” I desire that to be said of me at the end of my life.
But when I stopped leading worship in 2016, I realized I no longer led because I felt close to God. It had become a job, and I became focused on leading music. I wasn’t devoid of spiritual connection, but it had significantly decreased.
During this Gratitude Challenge, I’m finding myself noticing God in everyday conversations. Just in the last week, I’ve had at least three conversations where I sensed God speaking directly to me or through me.
I know that’s subjective, but I’ve also noticed that I have a deeper desire to know God. I’m more deeply thankful for what God has done for me. I once again want to be known as “a man after God’s own heart.”
The journey continues
There are still nearly thirty days remaining in this challenge, and I know the journey will really have just started at that point. I suspect that for the next thirty years, I’ll be learning to be grateful.
I already see other benefits like freedom from addiction, increased intimacy with my wife, and improved health factors like sleep, weight, and heart rate.
Gratitude is certainly not the only contributing factor in all of this, but in my personal journey, it’s been the starting place.
What about your journey?
I’d love to hear about your journey with gratitude. How do you practice gratitude, and what difference has it made in your life? What tools or resources do you use?
Lord, thank you for the ways you’re teaching me to be grateful. Show me each day another step to take. I pray you would continue renewing my mind, filling my heart, and releasing my voice to sing your praise. Teach me to dismantle the thoughts that hold me back. Surround me with people who encourage me and whom I can encourage. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.