So … glass half empty or glass half full?
I am not, I have to confess a naturally positive person. Pollyanna I ain’t! So when walking down with one daughter to collect the other, and tired from a spate of broken nights for no particular reason, thankfulness didn’t come easily. But as I was walking along with her, I was trying to get her to tell me the things that had happened that day that made her happy – and noticing the little things: the rich red colour of a peony in someone’s garden, the confident hopping of a blue tit along my fence, the sun shining, the shape of our War Memorial (cross within a circle – beautifully symbolic) – and realizing that, even if ephemerally, these all made me happy.
She complained and asked why I was trying to be so positive – and I replied: ‘Because neither of us are very good at it – and we need to practice!’ And as I said it, I realised that was true. Sometimes I need to discipline myself – make myself to begin with – and be thankful to God for the blessings he provides, look for the positives – and as I do so, the weight of the negatives seems to subside, and the thankfulness becomes easier and more real.
Paul knew this in Philippians 4 v 4 when he urged his readers: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (NIV.) Sometimes it feels like a chore, maybe even feel fake but whatever our circumstances, we have things to thank God for. Things from the past where God has shown his faithfulness – and the fact that we can trust Him to continue to be faithful to us – as He does not change. The small blessings. The big blessings – another day of life, another day to share with our loved ones, to reach out to others.
Does this mean we come to God with a fake smile pretending everything is ok, when it’s not? By no means. The Psalms in particular are full of David’s honest remonstrances with God, his feelings of abandonment, confusion. Why are these recorded in Scripture if not to remind us that God is big enough to take whatever feelings we throw at Him? He wants us to be honest with ourselves but also honest with Him. And in that place of honesty, He can begin to change our perspective.
For a while after it happened I wondered why I had not got into the University that I had focused my whole efforts on for so many years. Since the age of 7 I had wanted to go to this particular, high-status university (mentioning no names!) and had been called for not one but two interviews. But didn’t get in. The explanation came several years later, looking back on my later teens when I had something of a breakdown, caused by events several years before but also from stress of study. If I had gone to that particular university, I honestly don’t think I would have survived. And I would not have gone to the university where I ended up, stayed in the area, done my teacher training in an area close by and ended up meeting my husband-to-be. So from disappointment (and believe me, it was disappointment – until my 20s I was focused on academia almost to the exclusion of anything else) has come huge blessing – two lovely children who I am immensely proud of, and a husband who I love with my whole heart. And opportunities to serve God right now, where I am, which I am hugely thankful for.
So I can ask God to help me see the reason for my circumstances (yes, there are still frustrations – the sandpaper of life that rubs off the rough edges?) And I can choose to be thankful, sometimes despite those circumstances.
So in 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18 Paul says: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”