It was painful, and I contemplated why they chose not to attend my wedding. To me, it felt like a boycott — against this new season of my life, against my decision to hold the wedding in Iowa instead of my home state of North Carolina, against my husband being White. My spiral into an abyss of despair was abruptly interrupted by my brother.
“Let’s not be worried about who is not here. Let’s focus on who is here. The people who are here deserve the bride’s attention,” he demanded.
He was absolutely right. And not only did I need to be fully aware of those who chose to witness the beginning of our union and pay money to plan, travel, and lavish us with gifts, my wedding guests needed to see me reveling in the celebration. My brother’s interruption snatched me off the path to negative nowhere and welcomed me back to the big picture. While it was okay for me to be disappointed that a few people who I counted on to show up to such a special occasion chose to stay home, it was unacceptable for me to allow that to define the day or become the whole story.
Why do I do this? I settle into brewing over something that hurts, while the joy of accomplishment, celebration, and goodness in general evades me. It’s like allowing nine hours of nighttime to cause me to miss out on fifteen hours of a sunny day. It seems ridiculous and unnatural. I learned, however, that it is quite natural and common to fixate on negative experiences, like mistakes, insults, and disappointments. Brain studies show that there is greater neural processing in the brain in response to negative stimuli, which is why negative events have a greater impact on our brains than positive ones. The sting of a rebuke is more weighty than affirmation and joy. Past traumas linger long past their expiration dates. Bad news demands more of our attention than good. Criticisms overshadow compliments.
But better than understanding my wiring is knowing God’s desire for me to experience the fullness of His glory. God understands why it’s easy for me to focus on the negative but offers a way for me to revel in the positive.
Paul writes, “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 KJV).
God helped me see how gratitude overrides the propensity for negativity and allows me to embody the joy of the bigger picture. For example, when I expressed gratitude for the wedding guests in attendance, my mood shifted immediately! I saw the sacrifices that people made to join in our celebration. I saw people who came to witness our new beginning. I saw people investing in our future. I had to rejoice. I had no time for disappointment. My bridal cup runneth-ed over with joy!
Practicing gratitude helps me see the story unfolding from God’s perspective. It helps me anticipate and recognize God’s grace.
Jesus gave thanks in every situation — when prayers were answered, as He performed miracles, in the midst of suffering, at His last supper with the disciples — and He was able to tap into the joy of God’s bigger picture. Inspired by His expression of gratitude, I decided to create my own daily practice.
In the morning, I express gratitude for all the great things that are coming my way that day. As I carpool, my children and I share what we are grateful for about ourselves and why. This allows us to show an appreciation for assets we might otherwise take for granted — our bending knees, hearing ears, seeing eyes, curly hair, melanated skin. We then express our gratitude for the things that touch our lives, like books, friends, and grandparents. At night before bed, I look at the calendar to review events, appointments, and to-do’s for the following day. I say a thank you for each person and project that I get to touch. I then take a moment to reflect on the day’s moments, events, wins, insights, and lessons. And for each I say thank you.
While I don’t pretend that night’s darkness does not exist, in gratitude, it doesn’t overshadow the sunny days.
Friends, it is God’s will that we practice gratitude — not because God needs our praise but so that we don’t miss out on living in the glory of His bigger picture.