A version of this post first appeared on the Delight Ministries blog.
I am a tried and true to-do list maker.
I can’t function without a list or I’ll be that person who goes to Target for toothpaste but comes out with cereal, pajamas, and a new colander.
During my last year of college, I had to create multiple columns on an 8.5 x 11” sheet of paper in order to accommodate my list of things to do. There wasn’t even room to list things like “take a shower” and “eat breakfast”—you know, the essential tasks you write just so that you can cross them off. That’s when you know things are out of control.
I reached a point one semester when I was so exhausted, stressed, and disheartened by juggling what felt like a thousand different things that I started to see my joy slipping away. And this season of life should have been full of joy! After all, I was living within walking distance of all of my best friends, I was engaged to a hilarious and faithful man, and I was so close to getting that diploma after years of hard work. Still, I never felt like I was accomplishing enough in a day to feel good about the next one, which kept me from being content and fulfilled.
Through prayer and reflection, I felt that God was showing me the key to experiencing the fullness of joy: gratitude. By the end of each day, I was already setting my sights on what I needed to accomplish tomorrow, which robbed me of the opportunity to reflect with thankfulness on today. I decided to incorporate a practice of gratitude into my daily routine to work my way out of this funk.
Each night before bed, I committed to writing down three things that happened that day that reminded me of God’s loving presence. They could be simple things that I was thankful for or that made me smile, like that coffee date with a friend, finishing a difficult assignment, or the giant hug I received from one of my preschoolers.
It was a small commitment, simply a list of three bullet points. I didn’t have to include details or fill the page (though sometimes I did), and I didn’t have to exceed three simple moments (though usually I did). But it couldn’t be less than three, and I had to complete it before I turned off my light.
The practice of reflecting on my days and looking for God’s hand in them transformed my outlook like I had hoped, but it also transformed my heart, my relationships, and my ability to see God in the small things. I was retracing my steps each day and allowing God to walk me back onto the path of joy, contentment, and fullness, no matter where I might have wandered. Practicing gratitude showed me the way to cherishing my friends in new ways, to developing a healthier view of myself, and to experiencing God’s presence more deeply. Before I started this practice, even small things had the capacity to dampen my day. Now, because of practicing gratitude, even small moments of joy could be wellsprings of peace and thankfulness.
It reminded me of the what Jesus says in Matthew 7, when he’s preaching the Sermon on the Mount and trying to illustrate for people the kind of life that God wants us to live. He says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” When we go looking for signs of God in our life—for the hope, the joy, the love, the patience, and the kindness that all bear his signature—surely we will find them, and most days in abundance.
What can gratitude transform for you today?