I learned early on in my marriage how to minimize anxiety in many ways, including avoiding conflict, image management, perfectionism, and stuffing my feelings. The latter didn’t work so well, as I began to suffer physical manifestations of my anxiety, including headaches, digestive issues, and the development of an ulcer. I avoided sharing my true feelings and anxieties because I feared criticism, making change and intimacy difficult.
Fortunately, Jesus, with His loving mercy and gentleness, showed me a better way. I used to look at gratitude rather flippantly, not really understanding the difference between thankfulness and gratitude. Thankfulness is a feeling, usually in relationship to what we are given. Gratitude, on the other hand, is an action word. So, we feel thankful and express gratitude in our actions.
In his almost 50 years of marriage research, John Gottman has studied the beneficial effects of gratitude in relationships. His studies of couples indicated that people who practice gratitude are less likely to divorce. They also report fewer symptoms of both physical and mental illness, increased optimism and happiness, stronger relationships, and increased generosity, among many other benefits.
Spiritually, we reap the benefits of gratitude in other ways. In Philippians 4, Paul tells us,
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 NKJV
In Greek, the word “thanksgiving” translates to eucharistia: grateful language to God.
The spiritual benefits of swapping out gratitude for anxiety are: 1. Peace; 2. Not having to have all the answers myself; 3. Protection over my heart and mind. This is priceless!
As you keep reading in Philippians 4, verse 8, Paul uses the imperative finally, meaning (my translation), “If you didn’t hear anything else, pay attention to this!” Paul not only tells us how NOT to think (“be anxious for nothing” v. 6), but he tells us how TO think: “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” He then reminds us that if we think this way, the God of peace will be with us (v. 9)!
In the Pure Desire book, Connected, Dr. Ted Roberts discussed the levels of gratitude, moving from thanking God for THINGS, to thanking God in the midst of trials, to eventual gratitude for counting all things as loss for the glory of God (Philippians 3:8). Moreover, Dr. Ted reminds us that living in gratitude transcends performance; it’s all about our relationship with the Lord.
This is good news for me, as I continually battle with feeling “good enough” and shedding my “value by performance” mentality.
Growing up in a constant state of hypervigilance can leave people with the feeling that they are always waiting for the other shoe to drop. For some of us, gratitude can seem difficult because life was difficult. But Jesus is telling us to let go:
Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.
Matthew 11:28-30 NLT
As I began to be intentional about worshiping the Lord, expressing thankfulness, and walking in gratitude, my thinking began to change, and I experienced more peace than I ever imagined.
Are you ready to exchange anxiety, heaviness, and stress for peace, lightheartedness, and rest? Begin to practice gratitude at whatever level you feel you’re at and watch as God begins to change your thinking and give you the desires of your heart (Psalms 37:4)!