I received a message recently from someone who reads my nightly gratitude post, “Counting it ALL Joy” on Facebook. Here’s what it said: “Your Counting it ALL Joy is killing me.”
I’d been posting a lot of things about my new little granddaughter including an adorable picture of her in her hedge hog Halloween outfit, so I thought she meant it in a nice way – killing her with joy. But then I read further.
“ …we face issues that do not have a shred of joy in them. I stand here in front of your words and beg my Father to help me, in faith, believe it and to live it. This formidable mountain casts a deep shadow.”
Oh my heart. She’d been reading not just the gratitude posts but also the blog series on climbing the mountains in our lives. Her mountain was so vast the shadow was blocking out every bit of light. All I could do was empathize because I’ve been there. That’s how this whole practice started—when I was drowning in the depths of my own darkness. It’s one thing to count your blessings when you can look out your rustic farmhouse window, see the sun rise and the light fall on that patch of glorious sunflowers you planted last spring. I looked out the window and all I could see was the dumpster. I get it.
How do you count it all joy when you’re not joyful?
Counting can become a competition. I want to count more blessings than my neighbor, or at least more than yesterday. I want my counting to count up. To reach the sum of a great big beautiful life. I want to live LARGE. But here’s the crazy part: a radical thing happened as I searched for that large life: I eventually found it –in the small things. I started small, ya’ll.
Cracks in the sidewalk small.A large life is found in the small things. Click To Tweet
I told my friend last night and I’ll tell you this morning because I woke up with it burning inside me, Sometimes the only things you can think of to count are memories. Click To Tweet
The morning I had my gratitude breakthrough wasn’t the first time I’d counted my blessings. I’d read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, just like you, just like the rest of the world, and then looked down at the greasy dishwater as she gushed on about the beauty in the bubble rising from her own sudsy sink.
In desperation I pulled on my sneakers and headed out the door, determined to find some joy to count. Instead, joy found me.
Stumbling into joy
I literally stumbled into joy as I stumbled down the sidewalk, vocally thanking God for everything I could think of. As I told my friend last night, it was the hardest internal work I’d ever done. I’d recently lost my house so as I walked past the gorgeous bungalows along the streets in my neighborhood, I thanked God for them, for being able to enjoy them vicariously, without the weight of the crushing mortgage payment or the work of upkeep. I thanked Him for the cracks in the sidewalk because it reminded me of when I was a kid, trying to not fall when I skated over the area where the tree roots had buckled the pavement.
That brought up more childhood memories and I thanked Him for them, too. Then I walked past a house I’d walked by a hundred times and noticed a piece of paper on the door. The curtains were drawn. The house was empty. Foreclosure. My heart broke in recognition and I wondered what had brought them to that point, whether their marriage had survived it; did they have somewhere to go? I prayed for them with the passion of someone who’s been there and knows every pinch of the pain.
Gripped by gratitude
As I continued my walk, I began to be gripped by gratitude. It became a lifeline. I WILL BLESS THE LORD, I WILL BLESS THE LORD. BLESS THE LORD, O MY SOUL AND ALL THAT IS WITHIN ME BLESS HIS HOLY NAME.
I don’t understand it, can’t really explain it, but something broke inside me that day. And with that breaking, it was like my soul opened up and the light could finally pour in through the crack.
Life didn’t change overnight. In fact, my circumstances to this day haven’t changed a whole lot. I’ve changed though. Or I should say, my focus has changed. They say what you focus on expands, and they’re right. When I began to consciously look for things to be thankful for, I found them, I counted them and gradually they added up. It’s almost like they accrued interest.
The more I counted, the more I found. The more I found, the more I counted.
My concern after four and half years of posting these thanks online, first on Facebook and now on Instagram, too, (find me there @ susanmariniely) is that you might think I have this carefree life, traipsing through the daisies every day with a big, ol’ smile on my face. Those of you who know me in real life, know that’s not true. First of all, I’m just not a big smiler, and there’s still no daisies in my life other than the tiny patch of black-eyed Susan’s I planted last year. I’m by nature, a glass-half empty gal.
My husband and I have been through some hard stuff in the years since then. We’re facing more hard stuff now. He needs a hip replacement and it’s more serious for him because he’s on blood thinners. We’re still trying to rebuild after all the loss we’ve had so 6 weeks of not being able to work should be interesting. So, yea—health problems, financial challenges, grown kids who are facing hard things, a ministry that feels like its going nowhere…
For me, counting it ALL joy is an exercise in spiritual fitness. I want my soul to be healthy and for that to happen I have to practice letting in the light. That’s what this practice is all about. So if you read my posts and think, yea, well, you should wear my shoes for a day, Susan, let me tell you friend, I have. I have. They’re tight. Stiff. Unyielding. Or they have holes on the soles. Just like your soul has holes. I just want to encourage you to slip off those shoes for a few minutes and walk barefoot. Feel the damp, dew of the morning. The crisp crunch of sunburnt grass in the afternoon. Kick up some leaves before you rake them up. Allow your soul to feel the small things, the overlooked things, the seemingly insignificant things. Learn to be present in your life.
Gratitude is a practice that takes practice.
Soon you’ll be able to play without looking at the notes. The music of gratitude will be in you. It’s been in you all along, you just weren’t present enough to realize it. The things that you normally have to work so hard to count as joy won’t be as difficult because you’ll be so aware of all the other blessings.
I’m going to flip open the Notes app on my iPhone now and go to my Counting it All Joy folder and start to make today’s list. #1 will be this post. This morning I woke up with a burden that made my heart ache; I literally had to get this off my chest. I count it all joy that my nightly post caused someone pain; not for the sake of their pain, but for the sake that her pain pressed her into the Father. And she was vulnerable enough to share it with him and with me.
My life’s not a picnic, friends. But it is a feast.
10 ways to start a daily Gratitude Practice
- Go to the photography website, Unsplash.com and do a search for cracks. Notice the patterns, the beauty in the broken. Thank God for the gift of seeing.
- Take a walk and unplug if you normally have earbuds in. Listen. Pay attention to the thrum and hum of life. Thank God for the gift of hearing.
- Stop and sniff every single flower you see, every spice jar you open, every lemon you slice. Thank God for the gift of smell.
- Take Julia Cameron’s advice and go on an artist’s date. Visit a fabric store, a florist shop, an art supply store. Wander around, looking, touching, playing. Thank God for your senses.
- If you’re old, spend some time with a toddler. If you’re a young mom, visit the elderly. Thank God for all ages and stages of life.
- Grab your journal and write down the biggest struggle of your life. Then write down its opposite. That’s what God wants to do for you. Thank Him for that struggle and what He’s going to do.
- Read The Gratitude Diaries ~ How a year looking on the bright side can change your life by Janice Kaplan. Thank God for the difference a book can make and for public libraries. And yes, Amazon.
- Buy a pack of notecards and send one out every day for a week. “Paradoxically but wonderfully, focusing on someone else’s happiness will actually make you happier.” — A.J. Jacobs
- Do an ABC’s of gratefulness for a month. This would be a good month to start.
- Write down your gratitude list daily. Take pictures of your blessings. Record the list on your phone. Post them online or text them to a friend.
Father, forgive us for forgetting to give you thanks. We ask you to help us be gripped with gratitude for your gracious lovingkindness which you show in myriads of ways. Teach us to see your goodness even in the hard things and to respond with thanksgiving. Help us, Oh Lord, to Count it ALL Joy.