Emotional HealthHealingRecovery 5 minutes to read

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As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.

John 9:1-3 NIV

I was 27 years old, and I think it may have been the first time I really took my eyes off myself. 

I had been offered the opportunity to travel to Grand Goave, Haiti, on a mission trip. I had grown up in church but knew, for sure, I had never really given my life to God. Honestly, I’m not sure why they allowed me to go on the trip other than it was one of those God orchestrated things and I knew how to dig a ditch.

We had just finished the most joyous, albeit out of tune, worship service I had ever experienced. The Haitians had been singing, dancing, clapping, and smiling. As we sat on a wooden bench in 90 degree heat, sweaty barefoot people, dressed in their Sunday best—broken-zippered and buttonless clothing sent by Americans—started to trickle toward the front. I asked the person next to me what was happening. She explained that they were taking a benevolence offering for the poorest among them. 

I sat in stunned silence. Eating three meals a day or possessing a bar of soap was a luxury for these people. I couldn’t wrap my mind around how these people could be happy, grateful, and generous. They had so little. How could they focus beyond surviving today, let alone help others around them?

I had so much more than they did… three meals a day, fresh water, soap, a toilet, toilet paper—oh, thank you Jesus for toilet paper—the list goes on and on. Why wasn’t I happy and grateful? I felt a rush of shame over my ingratitude but quickly blanketed it with the thought, They wouldn’t be this happy if they knew what they were missing! However, the sense that I was missing something persisted.

Years later, I saw Nick Vujicic speak. If you aren’t familiar with Nick, he was born without limbs: no arms or legs. As Nick shared his story of finding hope and joy in Jesus despite having no limbs, tears streamed down my face—I was ashamed of my inability to be grateful for all that God had given me. I had limbs but I was unhappy and ungrateful for all I did have. I felt I deserved more.

Isn’t this the enemy’s plan? To get us to focus on what we don’t have rather than what God has given us. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had access to everything in the garden EXCEPT one tree. The serpent tempted Eve to focus on the one thing she didn’t have access to, and in focusing on what she didn’t have, her gratitude for what she did have was forgotten.

When I focus on all my unfulfilled, shallow and fleeting wants, I am tempted to entertain the lie that starts…if God loved me…

Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

Isn’t it in looking at all the beautiful people on social media, smiling with perfect bodies, nice clothes, beautiful cars, and thousands of followers that we are tempted to think, If I had “that”…, whatever “that” is, I would be happy too. Advertisers use the same tactic, telling us if we buy their car, drink their beer, or eat their burger, we will experience whatever they tell us is missing in our lives. 

We have all experienced pain and betrayal and because of this we often begin to see the world through the broken window of our soul; and instead of seeing beauty, joy, and goodness, we see only potential pain and betrayal, looking to what’s temporary in an attempt to find happiness.

How do we break this empty cycle and begin to be people who live vibrant lives of gratitude and radiate joy and peace wherever we go? I have a few suggestions that have helped me in this journey.

Practice being here. The quickest way I have found to become present in the moment is to consciously become aware of my senses: touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell. Right now, notice the color of three things around you. Touch two things. Can you smell anything? Fresh air, coffee brewing, someone’s perfume? 

Express gratitude to God. Now that you are present, find three things to be grateful for and tell God thank you. “God, I am grateful for ___________.” I find it best to say this out loud, even if only a whisper.

Express gratitude to another person. It doesn’t have to be significant. Tell your spouse you are grateful for them in some way. Maybe you are grateful they put the toilet seat down? Tell a coworker you are grateful for them in some way. Maybe they held the door for you on the way into the building this morning?

Do something nice for someone. It can be as simple as making the bed in the morning so your spouse doesn’t have to do it. Or cleaning the dishes in the sink at work, rather than leaving them for someone else to do. Or holding the door for another person.

Making these simple exercises a daily habit can drastically change your life. There are many, many studies showing that people who express gratitude live longer, have better health outcomes, score higher on tests, have better marriages, and are significantly happier than those who don’t practice gratitude.

This is because our brains look for what they are focused on and what they expect. If we train our brains to have a negative bias, we begin to see and expect negative things to happen to us. Expressing gratitude trains our brains to have a positive bias and we begin to see and expect positive things to happen to us. And this can change your life!

As we approach Thanksgiving, maybe this is the time for you to start consciously developing the habit of gratitude. Here are a couple books I recommend.

Today, I find myself grateful for people like Nick Vujicic, my Hatian friends, Joni Eareckson Tada, David Ring, and others who display the glory of God in difficulty and challenge. Seeing the joy of these people reveals to me that I am focused on the wrong things. They opened my eyes and helped me realize that the power of God’s joy is miraculous and to choose to be grateful for all He has given!

Mike Maxwell

Mike Maxwell is the Director of Operations for Pure Desire and is a certified Pastoral Sex Addiction Professional (PSAP) through the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP). His previous ministry experience includes seven years with New Beginnings Christian Center and two years as an Area Director for Pure Life Alliance, both in Portland Oregon. Mike has been leading purity groups since 2012 and oversees the Pure Desire groups at his home church, Good Shepherd Community Church. He authored The Purity Driven Life: God's Call to Character and Integrity.

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