Memories. And a Net of Thanksgiving.

This post first appeared at http://www.inspireafire.com/casting-a-net-of-thanksgiving/

Memories can turn bittersweet in a second.

I can be happily following the rabbit trail of my thoughts, hopping between afternoon plans and pleasant reminiscing when WHAM!

Thoughts in a rabbit candy dishIt’s like a hole suddenly opened up beneath my feet, or a rock slammed me back twenty yards. Use whatever analogy you want – perhaps you’ve experienced it too? – but a wave of sadness, or anger, or fear (or all three) has me pinned and wriggling beneath its weight. My happy little thought trail just turned deadly.

Maybe it’s the loss of a loved one, or a struggling relationship, or a transition you’re trying to navigate. There will be a time when memories bring you joy and comfort, but not right away. First, they hurt. They hurt like a red hot poker you can’t get near enough to touch. And so you stay away. But eventually those memories start to sneak in. A familiar location, a familiar scent, a familiar sound. Between the red hot poker phase and the happy memory phase there is this in-between time. A memory starts out so innocently that you glance its way. And then it pummels you.

I’m navigating that in-between time right now. Trying to learn when it’s okay to look, and when it’s not. When it’s safe to let my mind wander, and when my mind is about to turn against me. It is a journey by trial and error. But it’s a journey I have to take. If I never touch the thoughts, I never progress. I would simply harden my heart, withdraw, turn cold. But on the other hand, if I move too quickly, I will drown in the floodgates of emotion.

I am learning to walk my thought trails with a weapon at the ready, and the weapon I have found most effective may surprise you. There is a fraction of second, a space barely the size of the gap between two thoughts, when I feel my thoughts turning against me, swinging me over a pit of grief.

TrailAnd in that thought gap, that fraction between thought and emotion, I throw a net.

A net of thanksgiving.

“I am thankful for this memory,” I say. And then I transition immediately to the present. “I am thankful that God is continuing to take care of me and preparing new moments for me to enjoy. I am thankful God is restoring old relationships and bringing new relationships. Thank you…”

The secret to success with this weapon is three-fold. First, I have to throw the net the milli-second I feel myself being swung over that pit. I can’t test the thought to see if it’s really turning on me; I can’t think a little further to see if it’s really all that sad. I lose that battle every time, and once I’m on the way down, it’s much harder to grab a handhold.

Second, I have to move away from the memory that threw me over the pit to begin with. Too many times I’ve tried to weave a net of thanksgiving by stringing together everything I’m thankful for in that old memory. The problem is that while my brain is saying thank you, my heart is feeling the loss of every one of those old memories. Before I know it, I’ve used my net to climb down into the very pit I was trying to avoid.

View from hammock.Third, this is a safety net, not a hammock. This strategy disrupts the spiraling thoughts just enough for me to get back to safer ground. Whatever train of thought brought me to the edge, now is not the time to hop on board again. Too many times I’ve swung myself out of the pit just to ride my thoughts right back down into it. If I can’t lead my thoughts elsewhere on my own, I need to turn on music, a podcast, or call a friend. Anything to move to a new location in my mind. I can go visit that train of thought some other day.

Memories are finicky things. They don’t always announce whether they are friend or foe, whether they carry joy or sadness. Often they carry both. Memories allow us to learn, to grow, and to relive moments. But their power should propel us toward our future, not hold us mired in the past. There are times we need to thank them for their service, and walk away.

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Today’s Question

What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday

Wow. This made me stop and think… How about you?

giving thanks always concerning all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God, even the Father (Ephesians 5:20)

The Five Things I’m Thankful For

Is it possible to be thankful without feeling thankful?

The answer, I think, is: Of course.

The Bible tells us that we should give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  I’ve heard more than one sermon on this passage that suggests God doesn’t tell us to be thankful for everything; He tells us to be thankful in everything.  I have to contest this theory with Ephesians 5:20 which says we should be always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.  God, I think, wants us to be thankful both in everything and for everything.  God is in control, which means everything will ultimately be used for His glory.  Even when we don’t like something, we are to give thanks recognizing 1) there is always something to be thankful for, and 2) even the very thing we don’t want to give thanks for can be used for God’s good purposes.  Even if others mean it for harm, even if the Devil himself is after us, God can use it for good.  We know that for those who love God all things work together for good (Romans 8:28).  Even the things we’re a little less than thankful for.

With all these verses on thankfulness, I got to thinking how I’ve never seen one that says we are to feel thankful.  Which got me thinking some more.  Sometimes I go about this all wrong.  I act as though thankfulness is something I should be receiving, when in actuality, thankfulness is something I should be giving.  I shouldn’t be sitting here waiting for God to give me that full-to-bursting feeling.  I should be saying, “God, even though I don’t feel very thankful today, I am still glad you’re in control.  Thank you.”

It’s not easy to say thank you – and mean it – when you don’t feel it.  It’s a bit like walking a familiar path in the dark.  The “sunny” days I dash off thanksgivings without a second thought.  I love everything!  I am thankful for everything!  But when the dark days come even the major gifts don’t seem quite so bright and shiny.  I may have the exact same things to be thankful for – everything I loved in the daylight is still there – but I no longer see it.  Outwardly, nothing has changed.  It’s the same path.  But in the dark, my feeling is different.  And this is where we hear Paul say: In everything give thanks.  For everything give thanks.

I am blessed to have a friend with whom I randomly exchange thankful lists.  Sometimes by phone; sometime by email.  One of us will say, “Today I am thankful for…” and we will each list five things.  The other day I dashed off an email that said, in essence, “I am in need of an attitude adjustment, so today I am thankful for…”  and I am sad to say that out of the millions of blessings I should have been able to dash off, it took me several minutes to type out five.  You might say I was in the dark and even though I knew the blessings were there, I just couldn’t feel them.  But it doesn’t matter if I don’t feel them.  I can still give thanks in the dark.

We were talking about that tonight, this friend and I, and she was laughing that she had been thinking about all kinds of things for me to be thankful for.  “Just think of that email transaction,” she said.  “You could be thankful for the computer and email and internet and your eyes to see it and your fingers to type it…”

“I know.  I know,” I interrupted.  And then: “I’m glad at least one of us is thankful!”  But as I hung up the phone I thought, Carry one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).  Sometimes that means helping each other to be thankful.

Tonight I not only am thankful, I feel thankful.  For a friend who called and talked to me about being thankful.  And also for pillows, breakfast, carpets on cold tile, and indoor plumbing.

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night (Psalm 92:1-2).

Happy Thanksgiving!

May we all find something today worth giving thanks for… because indeed there are many things… no matter what we may be facing.

Shout to the Lord, all the earth, let us  sing

Power and majesty, praise to  the King

Mountains bow down  and the seas will roar

At the  sound of Your name

~ Darlene Zschech, Singer/Songwriter

(If you’ve never heard this song, you can get an unofficial sneak peek on YouTube.)

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever (1 Chronicles 16:34).

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!