I gave it up for a while. Somewhere around number 1,780 I stopped listing daily gifts in my gratitude journal, the one that sits open on the kitchen counter, right next to the paper towel roll. I figured after more than two years, I had the routine down pat by now.
The act of counting gifts had become instinct. My brain listed as I ran along the concrete paths, as I pushed my cart through the grocery store, as I drove to the dry cleaners and the library. Using an actual journal was a crutch. It was cumbersome, old-fashioned, passé.
Or so I thought.
As the weeks passed and the pencil and paper sat untouched on the counter, I discovered I’d gotten lazy. I wasn’t noticing bountiful beauty as I churned out four miles or ran errands around town.
Instead, I filled that whitespace with grumbles and complaints.
I fixated on what was missing, what I lacked, rather than what had so abundantly been given to me.
I worried more. Negative thoughts unfurled in my head, persistent, insistent, like the dotted yellow line disappearing into the horizon on a Great Plains highway.
I’d grown distrustful, too, of God. I found myself questioning whether he really did have my back, if he really did turn all things toward good. I didn’t have enough, I complained — enough readers, enough book sales, enough Amazon reviews and stars. I bargained a little bit…”I swear I’ll be happy if…” “If only you’d do this, then…”
A bottomless pit yawned wide, home to an insatiable monster who clamored for more, more, more.
It’s easy to miss the connection between gratitude and trust because it’s a subtle one. But as author Brennan Manning observed, “The foremost quality of a trusting disciple is gratefulness.”
I’ve learned the hard way that Manning is right.
And he’s right, too, in his observation that trust can’t be self-generated. We can’t simply will ourselves to trust. “What an outrageous irony,” Manning wrote in his book, Ruthless Trust. “The one thing I need to do I cannot do.”
But what is in our power, Manning reminded me, is the ability to pay attention, to notice the presence of God in our everyday lives.
Tallying daily treasures is a tangible, concrete reminder of God’s ever-present, never-wavering provision. When I see that list of gifts lining page after page in my journal, I can’t help but begin to trust the God who lavishes his love so abundantly, so exuberantly, day in and day out, minute by minute.
Doubt fades and trust grows as I begin to recognize his presence, even in the minutiae of my everyday.
And so I sharpen my pencil to a fine point, smooth the wrinkled, spattered pages and begin again. I list the gifts I’ve been missing for weeks, the ones that have been obscured by ingratitude and complaint.
Grilled fish served on a wooden plank…dinner on paper plates at the picnic table…a husband who bakes a birthday cake from scratch for me on vacation…sleeping in my own bed after being away for 10 days…two hours to write on the back patio…a sun-warmed hammock swinging in the breeze…turning the last page of a good read…a boy who makes faces over his breakfast cereal…time in the garden with my camera…
The practice of keeping a gratitude journal may indeed be a little bit passé. But I still keep the pencil poised and the list front and center on the kitchen counter, because now I know one thing for sure:
*This essay originally ran in the Lincoln Journal Star.