March 9, 2020 • Third Third Journal
Today I’d like to recommend an additional gratitude exercise. This is something that has meant a lot in my life. I expect it will mean a lot in yours as well.
One More Gratitude Exercise
by Mark D. Roberts, Ph.D.
Max De Pree Center for Leadership
Fuller Theological Seminary
In a couple of recent Third Third blog posts, I described two well-known gratitude experiments you might like to try: Counting Your Blessings Once a Week and the Gratitude Visit. Today I’d like to recommend an additional gratitude exercise. This is something that has meant a lot in my life. To say I invented it would be foolish. I expect millions of people have done something like this. But I did re-discover this exercise on my own, or, more likely, by the help of the Spirit.
Count Your Blessings . . . A Whole Year’s Worth at One Time
I don’t remember when I started doing what I’m about to recommend. I know it was at least ten years ago, sometime around Thanksgiving. As usual, I was caught up in the joyful events associated with that holiday: visiting relatives and friends, eating turkey and stuffing, enjoying too much pumpkin pie, watching football, and so on. As I engaged in my typical Thanksgiving traditions, it occurred to me that I had spent little time actually giving thanks to God. A couple of minutes in morning devotions and a couple of minutes of prayer before eating, that was about it. Yet I really did want to engage in a more extended time of giving thanks. So I set aside an hour or so on the day after Thanksgiving for this particular purpose.
What I did was quite simple. I took my journal and turned to a fresh page. I entitled this page: “My Thanks from the Last Year.” Then, I began to make a list of everything I could think of for which I was grateful. I began with what was most obvious to me: my wife and children. I noted particular things about them that I appreciated or special times we had shared in the last year. Then I moved to my extended family and friends. From there I included thanks for my work, again, jotting down a few details about what in particular I was thankful for. After a while, my list was filled with people, experiences, answered prayers, beloved musicians, personal possessions, national blessings, and several “biggies” like “salvation by grace” and “God’s presence in hard times.”
I spent about an hour with this thanksgiving exercise. As I wrote and prayed, I was struck by several things.
First, I was amazed by how long my list was. I know I am a blessed man. But actually listing a year’s worth of blessings was astounding. I had so much to be thankful for.
Second, I was also amazed by how much I had taken for granted. There were items on my list that, I fear, had received precious little attention from me before that day. I had been showered with God’s generosity but had forgotten to say “Thank you.” Honestly, I was embarrassed about my lack of attention and gratitude. I told God so.
Third, I was blown away by how strong my gratitude was at times. As I wrote out my thanks, tears often filled my eyes. Several times I had to stop because I was so overwhelmed by the strength of my feelings. Had I not engaged in this thanksgiving exercise, I would have missed out on so much joy.
Fourth, by listing out a year’s worth of blessings – and I’m sure I overlooked plenty more – I was struck by just how much God has been gracious to me. I’m the sort of person who can focus on the negative, on the problems in my life, without recognizing just how many positives fill my life each day. Plus, I’m also someone who moves quickly through the good things, rushing to the next item on my to do list. By enumerating my many blessings, I was encouraged to live more attentively, not just one day each year, but every day.
Of course you don’t have to be in the third third of life to devote time each year to counting a year’s worth of blessings. I’d recommend it to people of almost any age. Wouldn’t it be something if, on Thanksgiving Day, families and friends set aside time on the holiday for counting their blessings. Folks could spend maybe a half hour on their own, listing out their yearly thanks. Then, they could come together and share some of what they had written down. Wouldn’t that be even more enriching than watching football, taking a long nap, or eating leftovers? Just sayin’.
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.