From Fear to Gratitude

Last week my teenage son woke up in the middle of the night and could not open his eye, it was clamped shut. We tried hot compresses and drops, but the eye was protecting itself from something and would not open.

When he awoke in the morning his eye was still clamped shut making it very hard for him to open both eyes. For a few hours, he could not see and needed help to get around the house. I held his arm to walk to the car and to the doctor’s office. The eye doctor gave him a drop and his eye miraculously opened and we learned he had a serious abrasion that would heal.

When we got home, my son told me that he would never take his sight for granted again or anything else in his life. He was so afraid that something very serious was wrong and started to contemplate ‘what if’ I went blind… He told me that the most awful thing would be to never be able to see the beauty in the world again. And interestingly, he was helpful and thoughtful all day…

Why does it take events like this to make us see how good life really is and to feel grateful? But why do we revert to our old ways of thinking so quickly when things resolve?

As you might have guessed, it didn’t take long for my son to go back to focusing on what was wrong in his life with various classes, tests, chores, his sister, etc., instead of maintaining the blissful gratitude he had for that one day.

So, the question is, how do we maintain a spirit of gratitude despite our circumstances? There is science now from the field of positive psychology supporting the practice of gratitude.

When people wrote down three things they were grateful for every day for two months, they exercised more often, felt better about their lives, were more optimistic about the upcoming week and were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals.

When we accept things in our lives and are grateful, we let go of resistance and tension and can move forward with positive solutions.

Interestingly, the Bible taught this lesson long before recent science proved the link between gratitude and happiness. Although the Bible does not directly tell us to be thankful so we can be happy, it is filled with references to praising God (and the meaning of “praise” is related to giving thanks), being content and confident in God’s care, plans, goodness, strength and mercy regardless of our circumstances, and feeling the joy and peace that comes from the assurance of our salvation. 

The Bible teaches us over and over that a positive, grateful, faithful heart leads to strength, peace, and what we would define today as happiness.

In our teenagers, who most probably won’t write down what is going well in their lives, or read the Bible daily, how can we instill this feeling of gratitude every day for all that’s good -- all the small blessings that are often overlooked?

Maybe it starts at home with my husband and I being in touch with all the good things in our lives. What if we start consistently pointing out things in our children, each other, at work, the community, etc. that are truly good and stop focusing on what might not be as perfect as we would like, e.g. grades, phone use, too much screen time, etc. I am not saying that those things don’t need focus, but ask yourself where is your focus – on what’s wrong or on what is good in your life?

Your family can also have great conversations about how gratitude is a part of our faith. How have we been taught to express gratitude? Saying grace? Worship? Serving the community? How do these things make us feel? How do they make others feel? How to they strengthen us as people and as a community?

Throughout the day we are all faced with many situations that can be either energy drains or energy gains. The choice is ours at every moment. By choosing to focus on what is good in our lives, we can remain resilient in the face of challenges and create more to be grateful for. It’s amazing how these “new” discoveries in the field of positive psychology reflect lessons that the Bible has essentially taught for millennia.

What if every time we were fearful about something, we replaced it with gratitude? How about prayer? How would it change our lives and the lives of our children?

For more interesting points and Bible verses about the importance and benefits of gratitude, read The Power of a Grateful Heart: 21 Verses of Thanks to God.

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." 
1 Thess. 5:18

About the Author: Michelle Chung has been a practicing Presbyterian locally for 15 years and a member of Wayne Presbyterian Church for more than five years. She currently serves as a member of the Youth Committee and table leader for Confirmation class at WPC. Michelle has spent 25 years in the Pharmaceutical industry in senior marketing leadership roles. She is also co-author of the book On Track: The Proven 10-Minute Success Journal and On Track: The Proven 10-Minute Success Journal for College Students. Based on the Principles of Positive Psychology, On Track was created to help people achieve their goals and remain resilient in the face of challenges. Michelle is married to Tim, who is British, and they have two children who have grown up in Wayne Presbyterian and are at Radnor Middle School and Radnor High School.

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