“For” vs “In”

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

This is one of those scriptures that looks really nice on a 50% Hobby Lobby fancy wall hanging, a coffee tumbler, or an artsy Instagram post. It’s kind of a “feel good” scripture. Especially around Thanksgiving time. But personally, this is one of those scriptures that I used to give that cursory, superficial, closed mouth smile to and then walk by really quickly, pretending to be distracted (like the salesman standing outside the grocery store). The reason I have felt this way is because, this is how I used to read this passage: “… give thanks FOR ALL circumstances.” Oh, you want me to be thankful for ALL circumstances? Like death, being laid off, abuse, sickness, anxiety, and loss?

Of course, the answer is no. Paul says, “give thanks IN ALL circumstances” and the difference is important.

The way we give thanks in all situations is by learning to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. But we get stuck, right? We use complaining as a tool to bond with coworkers and friends. We use the laundry list of things that aren’t going well to justify another glass of wine. We find ourselves losing hours of sleep because our frustrating, out of control circumstances end up determining the strength of our mental and emotional health. Complaining is the greatest roadblock to cultivating thankfulness.

The Power of Mindset

There is a better way. We are more powerful than this! Chronic complainers tend to respond to all circumstances with a critical and judgmental heart… setting out on a complain campaign as they seek to create complain companions, thinking that complaining is the same as conversation, but its not.

“Complaining” could be defined as: describing an event or person negatively without indicating next steps to fix the problem. REPEAT THIS. I absolutely agree that there is a time for feedback, constructive criticism, and that there are many concerns that people have that are not only valid and important, but deserve attention so that we can be better. As a counselor- my career is based off of processing, providing feedback, and working through problems… but I genuinely do not think that this is not the same as complaining.

Dr. Fader, Ph.D, contributor at Psychology Today reminds us that:

“Human beings have an innate tendency to pay attention to the negative rather than the positive. Our survival instincts ensure that we focus on the possible dangers in our environment rather than the blessings. In my childhood, I didn’t realize that gratitude is the key to overcome this inborn tendency—to develop a more positive mindset. As an adult—and a clinical psychologist—I know that attitudes of gratitude or thankfulness are linked to a variety of positive outcomes – increased happiness, improved relationships, elevated health, and enhanced performance levels.” Along with these benefits, Amy Morin of Forbes magazine states that gratitude has been scientifically proven to: improve our physical and psychological health, increase empathy and reduce aggression, improve sleep, and increase self-esteem (here is the article if you’d like to do more research: https://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/11/23/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-of-gratitude-that-will-motivate-you-to-give-thanks-year-round/#66f84de5183c). 

Here are three quick, practical things you can try this Thanksgiving week to decrease complaining, and cultivate a thankful heart and positive mindset:

1. Negativity Fast!

At the beginning of October, several of us from our church began a 40 day fast from negativity. I SO wish I would have thought of this on my own, but this idea comes from a book called “Igniting Faith in 40 Days” by Steve and Wendy Backlund (here is the link to the FREE book: https://ignitinghope.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Igniting-Faith-Book-FINAL.pdf?fbclid=IwAR0Zf0xno3NmDVEf6lGf0-V5hVBylBtr4eBK034EHtzQaiLdFEw8WlWXG-k).

“What a Negativity Fast is NOT:

1. It is not denying that problems exist.

2. It is not stuffing things that are wrong.

3. It is not critical of others who may be struggling.

4. It is not irresponsible concerning things that need to be done.

What a Negativity Fast IS:

1. It is determining to focus more on God’s promises than on problems.

2. It is learning to speak with hope about even the toughest of issues.

3. It is becoming solution focused rather than problem focused.

4. It is refraining from reacting and giving voice to pessimism, criticism of others, self-criticism and other forms of unbelief.

5. It is speaking about problems to the right people in the right way.

6. It is replacing negative words and thoughts with positive words and thoughts based on the promises of God.”

If you’re interested in pursuing this, realize that it is a BIG undertaking and I don’t think it should be done alone. Find someone like minded to join you on this journey and have grace for yourself, no one will ever be perfect at this. This is just an intentional strategy to change the way you think and to increase thankfulness.

2. Deflecting

This is a “psychology term” and it is typically a negative word to describe a defense mechanism (i.e. I don’t want to take ownership over the hurt I caused, so I deflect by blaming the other person). However… deflection, by definition, is a method of changing the course of an object, an emotion or thought from its original source. Positive deflection goes like this- someone at Thanksgiving dinner is complaining about work, their neighbor, a co-worker, the president, their children… and you simply and kindly say, “What’s going well for you right now?” This question interrupts and shuts down the negative thought process and forces the conversation to shift. It can definitely feel awkward, but… lets be honest, so does the person dominating the conversation with their negative opinions. I say, if you’re going to be awkward, do it with positivity and the goal of gratitude cultivation. 

3. Three Blessings Exercise

Dr. Fader states that: “Before you go to sleep each night, write down three good things that happened during the day—anything from achieving a goal to enjoying your breakfast. Then, reflect on why that happened—perhaps your family helped out so you could have more time to work, or maybe your roommate bought fresh fruit for your breakfast.” This is a good way to keep gratitude on our minds. Something my wife has been doing the past couple of weeks is setting an alarm for 9:00p every night and sending three things from the day that she is grateful for to three friends. She is loving this and it is challenging her friends to think the same way!

When I am thankful, I am thinking about, remembering, recalling, and reflecting on what He has done. Psalm 105:5 tells us to “remember the wondrous works that He has done.”

We complain because we forget.  We grumble and whine because we experience memory loss… we suffer from like, Spiritual Amnesia. When we choose to engage in complaining, criticism, and contributing to negativity- we feel distant from God, don’t we?

Instead of REACTING to our circumstances, we must learn to RESPOND to the promises of God. We can’t forget to remember! It is by our remembering, through the practice of the cultivation of gratitude, that we grow in confidence and live a life of contentment.