“The feeling of gratitude is a shy bird. Chasing it does no good. Genuine gratitude can never be forced. Trying hard to feel gratitude is like trying hard to fall asleep or fall in love. The harder you try to be grateful, the more elusive the experience becomes. It must come to you, on its own schedule and on its own terms. You practice gratitude by carefully building a home in your heart to accommodate it. The bird does not always come, but if you make a home for it, it comes often enough.” –Timothy Miller, How to Want What You Have

This quote is one of my favorites. I think I love it so much because I tend to be someone who chases things. If I just chase after it hard enough, long enough, intensely enough, I’ll get it (whatever it is). However, I have learned the hard truth that I can not strive my way into feeling grateful. When I was younger, I thought I just needed to try harder, which never worked and left me feeling less grateful than before I started. And while I still have a long way to go, I have found that “building a home in my heart to accommodate it” has resulted in unexpected moments of feeling overwhelmed by God’s goodness.

That all sounds lovely, but practically speaking, how do we “build a home in our heart” where gratitude can live? For me, the home is being built by myriads of daily, small moments spent in God’s presence, in His created world, and in His Word. It’s sensing His nearness, hearing Him speak to me through the words of a song, delighting in the details of the Spotted Towhee outside my window. It’s breathing deep and cultivating the practice of living in the present and surrendering my worries about the future. It’s allowing myself to give and receive love with those in my life. It’s taking my eyes off me and turning my gaze upward and outward. It’s holding loosely to my plans and staying open to the movement of His Spirit. There are countless small practices I can do every day that creates the kind of environment for gratitude to show up unexpectedly -like a surprise visit from our best friend- and stay awhile.

I, for one, am glad that gratitude isn’t something I have to muster up, manufacture, or produce on my own. That’s exhausting. I’m also glad gratitude doesn’t depend on my external circumstances, especially in a year like 2020. If anything, years like 2020 reveal a whole lot about how well – or not so well – I’ve created the space in my heart for gratitude. Even in the midst of really challenging circumstances, God’s Spirit in us can help us respond in gratitude to His goodness. I think that’s what Paul meant when he said to give thanks in all circumstances because this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus (I Thess. 5:18). God wired us up to respond to his goodness with gratitude.

My prayer for you at Thanksgiving is that in the sweet, tender, and yes, even painful moments of this season, the door of your heart will be flung open to God and to others, and when you don’t even notice, that shy little bird will fly in.

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