How I Keep a Gratitude Journal
January 20, 2017 | My Jottings
I have shared a few times on my blog how I keep a gratitude journal, and what this discipline has done in my life. I know many of you already do this as well, but I have had enough comments from people through the years about how they’ve had difficulty establishing this tradition in their lives, so I thought I would write about how simple and life changing I have found it to be. My hope is that you might be encouraged to begin keeping your own journal full of thanksgiving to God, and that it will become a joy to you. And to the Lord.
I grew up in a home where I knew I was loved, but I can’t say I was surrounded by thankful people. I heard a lot of negativity and critical comments, not so much toward me, but in general. I think my temperament leans toward melancholy, so viewing the glass half empty always came more naturally than seeing it as half full. There have been many times in my life when I’ve been overwhelmed with depression or anxiety (the latter of which usually manifested itself in my trying to control situations). I can honestly say that when I started diligently writing my thanks out to God in 2011, things slowly began to change for me. My mind didn’t stay in the same ruts as long. I became slightly more resilient, emotionally. I consider it my antidepressant, and I honestly believe it changes my brain chemistry. I still need improvement there, but just to have seen God work in that area is such a blessing.
I had tried writing in a gratitude journal years ago, but when I didn’t write in it every day (I remember Oprah sharing how she wrote three things every single day for which she was thankful), I thought I was failing at it. See? You don’t finish what you start. You can’t even stay with it for a week. Thoughts like this were the enemies that made me feel I just couldn’t begin a discipline and stick with it.
After I read Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts in 2011, I was so inspired I wanted to try again. This time I told myself the truth, that it didn’t matter if I wrote in my gratitude journal every single day, that I just needed to write in it regularly. If a week or even a month went by, I could still come back to it and write out my thanks and it wouldn’t be failing. It seems so sad to write those words, but this is the way I have thought at times. If something isn’t done just right, then it’s all wrong. Gah.
My friends Pat, Gail and Lorna gave me a gratitude journal in 2011 and I began right away, with a prayer that the Lord would open my eyes to all He has done for me, and all the gifts He continues to bestow each day. And prompted by what Ann Voskamp wrote in her book, I decided to look at each thing I wrote down as a personal gift from God to me. I rejected the thought that anything I listed was random, and decided to focus the eyes of my heart on God’s loving hands in my life, minute by minute.
I am now on my third gratitude journal. Here they are, lined up from first to current. I’m almost at the end of the black leather one and will be going to choose the next one soon. They have come to mean so much to me that I’m very intentional about picking one out — I know I will hold it and sit with it for months and months, so I want to like the way it looks and feels.
Everyone’s tastes are different, but I like a journal that is bendable and soft, so I will probably buy leather again. I also don’t want it to be too big. The black one above measures 6 inches wide by 8 1/4 inches high. It’s just the right size to handle my rather large writing, and small enough to tuck into my purse. I also know that I prefer blank journals with lines in them. By blank I mean that there aren’t printed sayings or quotes on the pages as you’ll see in one of the photos below. You might like that kind. Others who have artistic ability might like unlined journals so they can draw and doodle as they write.
I keep my gratitude journal by a chair in my bedroom, where I often sit in the mornings to do my Community Bible Study lesson — it’s the place where I read and pray most. If you have a chair in your bedroom but you rarely sit there, you might want to put your journal in a place where you are most frequently. Maybe the kitchen counter, or by your living room couch. Or your nightstand.
Sometimes I write two things down. Sometimes I write twenty. Sometimes I go for several days and don’t pick it up. Other times I might not miss a morning for a long time.
As often as I can, I try to remember the scripture verse from Psalm 100:4:
Enter His gates with thanksgiving,
and His courts with praise!
Give thanks to Him; bless His name!
And I remind myself that when I sit down in that plaid chair after I’ve seen my two foster women off to their jobs, I am entering the gates of God when I give Him my thanks. And if I praise Him, I’m going a little further in, right into His courts. I’ve tried picturing how that must look in the unseen realm and my imagination falls short, but I can tell you it’s a comfort to know that He tells us if we give Him thanks and praise, we come right onto His holy property, into His presence.
I have also learned to use my gratitude journal as a springboard for prayer. My prayers aren’t very long or eloquent, but sometimes what I write prompts me to end the thanks with a prayer. Below, on March 6, 2011, I was struck by being able to just buy groceries. What a lavish gift that was, when there are hungry people in the world. I don’t understand all of God’s ways or whys, but I want to thank Him for what I see. (You can click these photos to enlarge them if you like.)
For #336, I must have been quite aware of being sick with a sore throat, so I just thanked God in faith for what yet another sickness that year might have brought me to. If that sounds spiritual, it’s not very. I had been in bed off and on for weeks with a virus my body couldn’t shake that year, and I was feebly trying to preach to myself to give thanks no matter what.
The next photo is from my second gratitude journal in 2013. On April 4th I was looking at Michael napping, and saw our older Schnauzer Edith near him, snoring away. Why not thank God for that? My beloved husband, though already on the Parkinson’s decline that would eventually take his life, was next to me, and God had given me that blessing from His gracious hands that very day. And to top it all off, He let us have dogs we were crazy about, who made us laugh and delight in His sometimes quirky creation.
You can see that I also thanked God that He tells us to “fear not” hundreds of times in His Word — a fearful thought about our future must have intruded into my thoughts, and so I wrote down the antidote in my journal and made it a tiny prayer. That day the lemon juice in the chicken noodle soup made the list, as did being able to finish a foster report that was weighing on my mind. And who isn’t grateful for garbage pick up? Right at our curb!
I thank Him for friends and ask Him to bless them — short but heartfelt prayers. I thank Him for snow. For how able He is to bring light to darkness and life to deadness. You can see how random my thanks are.
In the photo below, this was some of what I wrote during the week of Michael’s dying, in February of 2015. There were nurses who helped us, visits from family and friends, kind words…all were gifts of mercy and compassion to me, from my Heavenly Father. Then I finally returned to my journal a couple of weeks after Michael’s move to heaven, and although I was so full of grief I wanted to thank the Lord for all the ways He showed Himself faithful and kind to us, even in such a huge loss. I consider even wanting to give thanks a grace from God. It is His doing.
And if you decide to keep your own gratitude journal, I encourage you to be sure to number each thanks you give to God. There’s something powerful and reorienting about seeing that He has blessed you thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of times, and that He is giving us eyes to see those blessings.
If you ever sit down to record God’s gifts and have a hard time, don’t be discouraged. Ask Him to help you. There have been hard times when I’ve sat in my chair, tears streaming down my face because of my husband’s illness or drama with a child, and I can’t think of what to write. During those times I have written my thanks for being able to see the color red on a pillow, for water coming out of my faucet, for mobility, for the gift of being able to pick up a pen and write words. If you can only scribble out a terse thank you to God for the simplest, barest of things, I believe there is deep beauty in that.
I’ve been asked several times if I ever thank God more than once for the same thing. Yes I do! If I’m thankful for it more than once, I write it down if it comes to mind again.
Below you can see that I thanked God for “peeing without pain.” Years ago I had bladder surgery and could not easily or comfortably pee for several horrid days. I promised the Lord I would never take the simple act of urination for granted again, and apparently that morning, I remembered to thank Him for such an overlooked blessing in #4539.
Couscous salad, deer, peeing, salvation, financial provision — they have all found their way into my thanks to the Lord.
Below, I was grateful for tree roots, for a tiny bird, for His power to change me, for a granddaughter… I write it all down.
Even though I may not write the words “thank you” in each numbered thing I’m grateful for, I’m making them a prayer in my heart as I write. Blue hydrangeas in my front yard — thank you Jesus! You designed them, you gave me this home, you give me the sight to see them. I don’t want you to place delights and graces in my life and be saddened by my ignoring them, Lord.
Often on the same page, I move from reveling in hydrangeas, to thanking God for a dear friend, to despairing about myself. I try to turn that into a prayer, as you can see in #5250, from October 5, 2015.
Below, I saw that the Lord brought protection, a paying vocation, time alone to work on a presentation, a wonderful group of women at CBS to lead in a core group, a comforting time at a grief support group meeting, a visit from a friend, an invitation from a daughter.
Some might ask, how do I know these are all specific gifts that God literally planned and gave to me on any given day? James 1:17 says: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
Sometimes the things God allows don’t always feel like “good gifts,” but we know that His ways and thoughts are higher than ours, so when those times come, I ask God for the grace to write something anyway, and to make it a prayer.
There are many words in my gratitude journals that I wouldn’t want to make public, and I think that would be the same for all of us. There are days when I have written something similar to this: #6073 — Lord, I thank you that you are able to break through my sorrow and that there is purpose to my life no matter what I feel. Or #5914 — Lord, you know how paralyzed I feel by what is happening. I thank you that I can trust you. Or #1745 — I thank you that your well of mercy never dries up, Lord. Forgive me again. Help me, dear Jesus. I’m trying to be honest with Him, yet am still determined to give thanks.
One of the most convicting verses in scripture I’ve ever read is Romans 1:21:
For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
I see a sobering progression there — someone can know God, but not honor Him or give thanks to Him, and then something dangerously real happens in their mind and their thinking becomes futile, and then their foolish hearts become dark. Whoa. I have been there. I have gone many years without actively and intentionally giving thanks to God, and I can remember my futile thinking and my darkened heart.
The converse of that verse could be: He/she knew God, honored Him and gave thanks to Him, and their thinking became productive and fruitful, and light blazed in their hearts. I believe that’s what can happen when we practice the joyful discipline of keeping a gratitude journal.
And you probably know these verses:
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
I believe keeping a gratitude journal is a way to recount all of the Lord’s wonderful deeds.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The converse of the above two verses from Philippians could be: Be anxious about every little thing and worry about things constantly, don’t pray, don’t bring all your cares and concerns to the Lord with thanksgiving, and then the most desperate anxiety and misery will imprison your hearts and minds.
I have been there. The misery and pain cannot be overstated. I know some of you truly understand what I’m talking about.
And in all honesty, I am not sure I won’t go there again. I am a human prone to perceiving things darkly, always thinking the worst is yet to come, and I have not by any means arrived in terms of always rejoicing and always giving thanks. Just last week something happened that almost did me in. I felt paralyzed with grief and fear and could not bring myself to give thanks. It took a few days for the desperation to fade so I could sit down and pick up my gratitude journal again. But I am asking God to enable me to keep this blessed discipline for as long as I live. I feel more mentally stable than I used to when I was a young woman, and I believe God has touched my mind and taught me how to stay in hope and thanksgiving.
Even though giving thanks has been such a blessing in my life, I truly want it to be a blessing to my Heavenly Father. I have too many times been an ungrateful daughter. I want to give Him a gift in return for all He has given to me. I want Him to see me thanking Him over and over, and I dare to hope that it has made Him smile. Too much of my life has not been pleasing to Him.
How about you? I would love to know if you have ever kept your own gratitude journal. If so, what kinds of things do you record? If not, would you like to begin?
And today, what little (or big) things are you thankful to God for? Take all the space you need in the comments below. It will be a joy to read!