It’s raining. It’s dark and dreary. Gratitude is a choice. I am grateful for rain.

Since our brains are hardwired to focus on the negative, we have to work at resetting them if we are to experience joy and beauty in life. This is especially true since most of our energy goes into confronting life’s challenges and responsibilities. Scientists have documented the necessity of focusing on something for at least 15 seconds before it leaves any imprint on our neural pathways. Thus, an attitude of gratitude is more of a practice than a feeling.

Gratitude rarely just happens, especially at first. We have to teach ourselves to be grateful. This principle is actually true of everything — patience, kindness, generosity, forgiveness, humility — as well as bad habits. By reinforcing thoughts and behaviors we reprogram our brains.

It’s important that we humbly ask God to remove all our character defects. The best way to do this is practicing gratitude. It is difficult to be angry, shaming, controlling, fearful, depressed, etc when we are grateful.

We are all addicts in some shape or form and addicts seem attracted to the negative. It’s our excuse to use or do the very thing destroying us. After all, why try improve when the world is going to hell in a hand basket no matter what? What’s the point of getting sober? Balancing the budget? Paying our bills? Eating healthy? Giving up Facebook?

Contrary to popular belief, freedom is not being able to do anything we want any time we want. Freedom is not the absence of fear, difficulty, financial challenges, hard times. Freedom is essentially a state of mind that helps us confront difficulty, pain, and suffering with equanimity and, yes, gratitude.

Gratitude is not a set of rose colored glasses. Gratitude is the essential skill we need to sift through the debris and junk of our broken lives. Gratitude helps us focus on what is already good, available, possible, hopeful, do-able and beautiful. Gratitude provides reasons needed to keep going. Gratitude is both method and reward.

My friends tease me about focusing so much on gratitude, but gratitude keeps me going through thick and thin. Gratitude helps me lean toward goodness, or what I like to call Godness. Being able to embrace and appreciate something, someone, possibilities, options, makes life worth living. When Porgy sings “I’ve got plenty of nothing, and nothing is plenty for me” in Gershwin’s moving folk opera, he defiantly squeezes beauty and hope out of his broken life and grasps the possibilities open to him.

I started attending 12 step meetings years ago when our children flailed their way through adolescence. My attempts to control the situation wasn’t working. The program gave me practical tools to help me change my thinking, my responses, my beliefs. Most of all, the program taught me to be grateful for our family struggles for those struggles were opening new new doors to us. By practing gratitude I began looking for the good things in my day. By practicing gratitude I became more able to see the many small victories others made, to give myself (and others) credit for making progres, however small, instead of focusing on failures.

Gratitude has enabled me to maintain my faith, to hope for a better furture, and to trust there is nothing so terrible from which something good and beautiful cannot rise from the ashes. And, for that I am supremely grateful. May yours be a truly gratitude filled Thanksgiving holiday!

Joyce Shutt is the pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church

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