When I lived in the DR Congo, my Congolese brothers and sisters taught me the importance of gratefulness by how they prayed every morning. In the Swahili language, they prayed, “Asante Mungu sababu niliamuka,” which means, “Thank you, God, that I woke up.” Sometimes they added another sentence: “Usiku jana nililala kama wafu, halafu leo asubui nilifufuka tena!” which means “Last night, I went to sleep like a dead person, and this morning I raised again!” The first time I heard this prayer, it stopped me in my tracks and made me ask myself When was the last time I woke up and thanked God that I woke up? My first thoughts were usually something like That cursed alarm clock! or Where’s the coffee? But after training myself in the daily discipline of gratitude, my first thoughts on waking most mornings now are the short prayer Thank you, God, that I woke up!
We must constantly remind ourselves that our life on Earth, no matter how short or long, is a gift from God. What we do with his gift shows whether we are grateful to the God, the gift-giver. In Felice Cohen’s What Papa Told Me, a book of reflections written by the daughter of a holocaust survivor, I learned how having been a Nazi prisoner made Felice’s father truly appreciate simple things after his ordeal ended. He came to appreciate things such as fresh air and the abilities to walk, go to the bathroom, or eat a piece of meat. Often we fail to realize how important and special something is until it is gone. For example, on December 20, 2012, a blizzard knocked out the power to my family’s home from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. When the power went off, we couldn’t flush the toilets (an electric pump supplies us with well water), wash our hands, or turn on a light. Think about how many things we all do each day without thinking how special they are: walking, talking, hearing, breathing, shaving. Reflecting on our daily life being a gracious gift from God can be like a huge megaphone calling us to appreciate everything—to be thankful for all of life!
So how can we cultivate a grateful life? A couple years ago, I was challenged by a book I was reading to keep a daily gratitude journal. The challenge was simple: Think of three good things that happened today, and record them in your journal. How simple—yet powerful! My attitude shifts immediately when I reflect on three things for which I am thankful. Most days, the three things spring to my mind and begin multiplying, but on some days, thinking of something is difficult. But even on my worst days, I eventually find three reasons for gratitude.
REFLECTIONS: Stop and write down three things for which you are thankful today. Keep doing so every day, continuing tomorrow—either as soon as you wake up, reflecting on the day before, or before you go to sleep at night, reflecting on the day that has just passed. If you want, use a notebook or journal to do so.
Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:18