We are nearing the holidays, which always carries an array of emotions. Some of us are counting down the days on our perfectly-designed Advent calendars and hanging twinkly lights and planning family devotionals. And some of us are watching the days tick by like a slowly approaching time bomb that will likely explode in eating too much casserole and arguments with family members and fighting traffic for last-minute gift buying.
Some of us expect this season to be full of magic and joy and we end up finding disappointment and hurt— like we are opening up a beautifully-wrapped present only to find a note that details all of our insecurities and fears. A lot of us know that the holidays will bring up pain because all we notice is the empty seat at the table where a loved one should be sitting and eating and laughing with us.
I went to hear a speaker at our church last week; he was a really smart guy full of facts and wisdom and good advice. He started talking about how our brains function, and I expected to promptly zone out since my particular brain does not comprehend science and statistics well. But I kept listening while he revealed this interesting research: it's scientifically proven that our brains hold onto all of the bad stuff more easily than the good stuff (he said this a lot more eloquently). Basically, we tend to remember the hurts and disappointments and fears over the joys and laughs and sweet moments.
We must fight to notice the good stuff.
I don’t know about you, but I can tell you from experience that this must be true. I don’t go to bed thinking, “Man, I had such a great day. Let me list off all my accomplishments.” Nope, I go to bed thinking about all of the tasks I didn’t check off my list, all of the things I said at the wrong time, the numerous hurts that haven’t quite been healed. For me, it is a constant battle to hand these worries over to the King so that I don’t stay awake all night dwelling on disappointments and not-yet-answered prayers.
But here’s the thing: when I started understanding these tendencies to dwell on the bad, I knew I must make an effort to remember the good. The joys and beauties of this messy life are all around me, but without any effort— I will remember those about as much as I remember high school calculus lessons.
We know this, don’t we? It’s why we make lists of gratitude and hang signs that say, “Count your blessings.” It’s why we have a whole season dedicated to giving thanks. I believe it’s why we start the Lord’s prayer with a sentiment of praise. We must train our brains to remember, to notice, to praise Him even when we don’t feel like it, even when it seems the whole world is ripping apart at the seams.
So here’s my challenge to you (and myself) this holiday season: take note of the good stuff. This doesn’t mean we ignore the bad. Pushing our hurts and sorrows deep down is not a healthy approach either. But we mustn’t remain in a place of disappointment because we have so very much to be thankful for.
Let’s just make an effort to take note of the joys. Open up a journal and start a list. Pull out a chalkboard and have everyone in the family keep a visual record of thanksgiving. Start and end the days with singing praises. Crack open the Word to pray the Psalms of gratitude. Leave post-it note reminders of grace in the car. Take photos that hint at His glory. I think this is worth the effort.
Because if we allow it, gratitude might change everything.
Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.