Give Me Gratitude, or Give Me Stress
by Sandy Schwartz
This article appeared in the November/December 2014 print edition of Daughters of Promise.
“Corinne, don’t touch that! A dog probably peed there,” I reprimanded my six year old daughter as we walked down a dirty sidewalk in our neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. “My eyes watch for beauty!” she exclaimed to me. She would spot a tiny patch of green grass and stop to literally stroke it, while I usually saw concrete, garbage, or dog litter. How can two people in the same surroundings see two completely different things? It is all in what you purpose to look for. And this, my friend, is a glimpse into the core of what we call gratitude. No matter what the circumstance you or I face, we are given a choice to be grateful or to be stressed. Whatever we are up against, we can choose to thank God for it.
Five years ago, I was intrigued when a friend from church told me about a book in which the author chose to heed the words in Ephesians 5:20 and thank God for everything. In the weeks that followed, the Holy Spirit kept impressing on me that I was to do this. That was the beginning of a journey of God peeling off layers of unredeemed junk in my life. It was also what God used to keep me from going into a full blown depression. Little did I know that in asking me to thank Him for everything, God was actually giving me the tools to face some of the hardest challenges of my life.
“Still I will trust” was what came to me on January 1, 2010. I sensed that that was the theme God had for me that new year. Just nine days later, in a sterile hospital room, I gave birth to our lifeless, 24 week old daughter, Elizabeth Charis. While in the fresh grief of that stillbirth, we were pulled into a very delicate, -18- painful relationship issue. We all know that pain needs comfort and healing. I chose to go to anger, self-pity, and fear in my desire for relief. These can give a nice, temporary zap of numbness and sometimes even a thrilling “high,” but the end result is devastating! Let me tell you, self-pity or the martyr spirit coupled with anger does not look becoming on any woman, no matter how flattering your figure or how beautiful a face you wear! This junk is best traded in for a “garment of praise”!
On sleepless nights, I learned to get up, read my Bible and wrestle with God, until He gave me relief through a word from Him. As I became His student, I learned that praise is faith in action. Complaining is actually unbelief because if I can’t I thank God for what He has allowed in my life, it’s like I am telling Him that I could have done a better job of planning things than He. That’s arrogance! That’s the equivalent of me telling Him that I know more than He does. Seriously. Who am I kidding? He is God and I am not. Period.
One night when I couldn’t sleep I was reading about how the children of Israel wandered around the wilderness for 40 years because of their unbelief. (Hebrews 3:19) They were a bunch of whiners! I realized that I was wandering around in my own desert experience and I did NOT want to stay there for 40 years. I needed to start cooperating with God and start praising Him! I can see now that I was holding myself back from rest because of my unbelief in God, which being interpreted in every day life was complaining and fighting God and treating Him like He didn’t know what He was doing.
At first, I found that practicing gratitude was a matter of the will. I needed to will to praise God. It becomes a choice to be grateful, even if I do not feel like it. I remember standing in my kitchen and thinking that this gratitude thing was as hard as working out—it would be easier to go to the gym than to thank God for the things in my life that I did not like. But I am finding that as I practice gratitude and choose not to give in to stress, it can actually, with the help of the Holy Spirit, enter all the way to my heart and become an inner motivation. I remember during the season that God was teaching me gratitude, I woke up one morning, and without even trying, as I woke up, my first words were, “Thank you, Jesus!” I thought to myself, “Where did that come from?” I believe it was the gracious gift of God, instilling it deep within my soul.
So much of the battle is in the mind. It’s easy to base our thought process around our feelings in the moment. We can swish those negative thoughts around in our head until they actually “feel real”. Other labels for this include “stinking thinking” and/or “believing lies”. A sure fire cure for this is to drag our mind back to truth. What is truth? God’s Word. God’s promises. God’s names. God’s acts and attributes. I have found this to be extremely helpful! On days when I was feeling depressed or discouraged, it was highly therapeutic for me to talk to God about these truths. In other words, I was worshiping. Ah….so good, so freeing, so relaxing, so transforming! One week when I spent extensive periods of time worshiping, I came to the realization that I haven’t actually suffered that much in life. (Now there’s a remedy for self pity!) Worship, praise, and gratitude embrace faith and build belief. Worship causes our suffering to shrink in our eyes, and elevates the God of the universe to His rightful place.
Isn’t it great that gratitude has nothing to do with our circumstances? Yes, that includes our outward appearance, our bank account, the size of our house, our husband or the absence of one, our job, our church, etc. But a grateful heart does affect how we view ourselves (our self image), other women (the comparison game), if and how we share our home with others, etc. Believe me, hospitality is about caring for people, not showing off what you have. Wow, isn’t that a relief? If we can develop and live out of a heart of gratitude towards Christ, we can demonstrate love and hospitality to anyone who walks in our door.
Why do we prefer wearing our troubles and busy schedules as a badge of honor instead of sharing the victories and blessings the Lord has given us? Now let me clarify something here. I am not promoting fakeness. If you need to ask somebody to pray for you and if you need help in your troubles, by all means be honest and open with others, but consider your motives for sharing. (James 5:16) I have discovered that sometimes my motives for sharing my “issues” is to look for affirmation or self-pity—maybe then I need to confess that as sin and ask for prayer. If you share your woes, do you want victory through prayer, or do you just want coddling from others? I believe that God calls His children to celebrate His goodness and to freely testify of the good things that He does, so let us practice that as the Spirit of God enables us.
Now that you have developed a heart of gratitude, go shout it to the world! Testify! God has been good to you! Do not keep it to yourself. Some of you may think your Sunday services could use a bit more energy. Let it start with you. You share what God is doing for you, and watch what happens. “They overcame him by the blood of the lamb, and by the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11). You want to be an overcomer! I am sure you do. Then go testify, girl!
Sandy Schwartz, wife of Rich Schwartz, is a home school mother of six children. In the flurry of activity that includes hosting guests “in season and out of season,” she has two options: bask in God’s presence, or become a basket case. Her identity is most certainly not wrapped up in the vehicle she drives. You can spot her cruising the streets of NYC in their 12 passenger van, otherwise know as “the bus.” Sandy loves spending time with her pastor, who is, incidentally, her best friend and husband. She is unique--she gets a thrill out of cleaning their church’s building. A few of her favorite things are: frequent belly laughs, banging out tunes on the piano, drinking coffee, hearing of God’s work in other womens’ lives, worshiping Her Savior, finding a good bargain, and hanging out with her family.