Following the Instructions for a Grateful Heart

Following the Instructions for a Grateful Heart

One morning, deep into the throes of our kitchen renovation, it dawned on me that I had no idea where our toaster was. Having reduced breakfast to the lowest common denominator of toasted bagels with cream cheese, my quest for the toaster was more than idle curiosity, and when it showed up in the furnace room, I was too relieved to bother with self-recrimination or even the why behind its whereabouts.

I’m no Martha Stewart even under the best of circumstances, but renovating our kitchen has stripped away any semblance of gracious living. For now, with the dining room piled from floor to ceiling with boxes of kitchen cabinets waiting to be installed and with electrical wires hanging like spit curls out of every wall, I’m just thankful to put any kind of meal on the dining room table—which, last time I checked, was in the living room.

At this point, I should apologize for making much of what is clearly a first-world problem. My access to reliable electricity and clean, safe running water puts me in company with the privileged 40% of the world who can join me in turning on a faucet to wash a plate or fill a glass. This, along with the fact that I’ve functioned just fine at this address for twenty-five years with our old, unsightly, and insufficient kitchen set-up makes me wonder why we are putting ourselves through this painful process. The word on the street (which, of course, comes to me through Facebook) is that, while the process is wretched, I will be very thankful with the end result when it is done.

The question that nags and will not be ignored is this:

Can I be thankful NOW?

Knowing what I know about the sovereignty of God and the blessing that comes after the patient submission to process, can I practice gratitude in the midst of the mess?

I’m not interested in a bait and switch in which I light a candle, practice a brand of skillful denial of the obvious circumstances, and then declare myself patient or grateful–at least for the moment. According to the Apostle Paul, gratitude is more than a spontaneous response or a pumpkin-spice-feeling. It is a matter of obedience to the will of God.

Author and poet Wendell Berry put words into the mouth of a fictional, elderly widow named Hannah Coulter who, in addition to being a crackerjack farmhand when needed and probably making a great pie crust, also had a clear handle on her biblical theology:

“You mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this:
‘Rejoice evermore.
Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks.’
I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.” (Hannah Coulter, page 113)

Following the Instructions

In this season of gratitude and pumpkin lattes, I will be focusing on those “right instructions,” knowing full well that I, too, am “not all the way capable of so much.” And yet this business of obedience to the Spirit of God is not to be confused with Operation Bootstrap. It is, rather, an operation by which, “the very God of peace will sanctify me wholly” through purposeful rejoicing in what is given and a prayer life that images the inhale and exhale of breathing.

Rolling into the month of November, whether your greatest challenge is deciding between pumpkin and apple pie** on the day of the feast–or whether God is choosing this season to grow you through adversity that makes my kitchen renovation look like a walk in the park–let’s return to the words of Paul in the way we turn to our recipe for fool-proof gravy, knowing that even though we are not “all the way capable,” the instructions are good, for they are absolutely true, and they are given to us with love:

 Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Giving thanks,

Michele Morin

**P.S.  My advice:  Go for a small slice of each.

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 30 years, and together they have four sons, two daughters-in-love, two grandchildren, and one lazy St. Bernard. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

49 thoughts on “Following the Instructions for a Grateful Heart”

  1. Amen, Michele! Your wonderful post reminded me of the first time the Lord drew my heart to the word “in” from “in everything give thanks” while enjoying Jan Karon’s Mitford series. He is with us “in” our circumstances, and for that alone we are so grateful. Many blessings to you, friend ❤️

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    1. Thank you comparing God’s work of answering prayer to a remodeling job, kitchen uplift and all! He is our Builder and Maker, of a whole city with Himself as the Foundation, Master Builder, and Mighty King. Thank you for such a picture to help me in distress when I am crying out to Him. He knows the plan- the blueprint He has for my life, plans for good and not for evil, to give me a future and a certain hope. He is Almighty God, He does what He promises. All His promises are “Yes” in Jesus Christ and I will rejoice. Oh that we would take every thought captive with thanksgiving and praise, rejoicing evermore because we have the ear and open heart of our loving heavenly Father, the One who builds us up.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Esther, you’ve written a psalm here in this comment box, and it is also the prayer of my heart to submit to the blueprint of the Master Builder. . .
        And to be patient while all the lesser builders do their best to pull things together here in my little world.

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    1. Well, it sure seems as if we shouldn’t. We have so much to be grateful for that thanksgiving would seem to be a natural thing, spontaneous, bubbling up from the overflow of appreciation.
      Even so . . .
      I can’t speak for others, but I know for me– I need to follow the instructions.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Just what I needed to read this morning, Michele. I can find something to grumble about in the best of circumstances. But gratitude can pull me out of the doldrums. I retired last week and have had so many tell me this is the time to experience nonstop fun and enjoy every minute of my life. So far, I still have laundry to do, and meals to prepare. I wonder about too much free time and losing my purpose. But here’s the thing. I have my health and enough money to buy food. And no kitchen renovation going on. And by focusing on my Creator, perhaps I’ll retain a sense of purpose. It will be an adventure! One day at a time. Thank you for your eloquent essay helping me put things into perspective.

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  3. Your question, “Can I be thankful NOW?” brought to mind the cell phone commercial which asks, “Can you hear me now?” Perhaps it is the same question for when we hear Him in the now, we will also be thankful in the now.

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  4. This post is so well thought out and written. I loved that gratitude is more than a pumpkin spice feeling and that finding gratitude isn’t Operation Bootstrap. I have the tendency to think gratitude needs at least one of these, and usually end up burnt out instead of grateful! Thanks for the wise words! Oh, and congrats on finding the toaster!

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    1. Ha! I’m keeping my eye on that toaster now, for sure, and I hear your thoughts on the bootstrap mentality. Even in writing the post, I struggled not to slip into a grit-your-teeth-and-hold-on way of describing what God does for us when we let Him.

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  5. I’ve sometimes pondered what the “sacrifice of praise” means in Hebrews 13:15 and why it’s phrased that way. The best I can come up with is what you’ve said here. Sometimes thanksgiving is an overflow; other times it’s a digging deep, an act of obedience despite feelings or circumstances.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Such a GREAT connection, Barbara–especially the truth that there are times when it really IS a digging deep. We find the “directions” and we act on them whether we feel like it or not. This is such a counter-cultural concept. But it is crucial for our spiritual (and I would argue mental) health.

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  6. Oh Michele, your words make me smile 😊 Thanks for taking time to craft such a gourmet meal of them. And for not opting personally for the bait and switch of an artificial gratitude comprised of candlelight and denial! We have better Options thanks to the Spirit’s empowerment!
    My current challenge is to be grateful for the coming of winter and all the discomfort it entails in the white north.

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  7. It’s great to be reminded of all the things we should be thankful for, but we have such wealth in our country, that we seem to think it is “owed us.” Good reminder, Michele. I have never gone through a remodel to this extent, in fact I was in a parsonage most of my life. To tell you the truth, I’d love to “suffer” through one just to have a place that has “my look.” 🙂

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  8. We are so blessed, we have so much to be grateful for. Living in Australia I often think of how lucky I am to be in a country where we are free to be ourselves and also be surrounded by such beautiful nature. First world problems, as you say how lucky are we to turn a tap and have clean water. There are some very important messages in this post, Thank you so much for sharing this post with #ABloggingGoodTime

    Liked by 1 person

  9. YES! Giving thanks in the midst of the mess! Love it! I always think about Jesus feeding the 5,000… He thanked God for what they had BEFORE it was enough. He thanked God in the midst of the mess because He KNEW is Father was going to provide! ❤

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    1. Great story application, Liz! Yes, so often we withhold our thanks until things are put to rights, when God is calling us to gratitude in the present moment–even as we wash our dishes in the bathroom sink.

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  10. Playing in the background right now is the hymn “This is my Father’s World.” Wow, it fits so well with all of your thoughts, Michele. Can I truly look around me and see ALL that He has given? Even the storms and renovations are full of His presence. There is where I can find Thanksgiving. Thank you so much for your beautiful reflections!

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  11. I loved reading this. In my darkest hours I look for ways to be thankful to God and this has never let me down. It doesn’t always relieve the sorrow or the hardship but it never fails to help me through.

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  12. I love my kitchen post renovation, but boy was I crabby during the middle messy stage. I don’t do chaos well or graciously. That’s one reason I’ve been procrastinating the last of our home updates-the bathrooms!

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    1. Ugh, our kitchen renovation ended up crossing a boundary into the bathroom because of some water damage we found on the floorboard, caused by the bath tub. Long story short: we’re thankful for our new tub . . . and very eager to finish this job!

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  13. Prayer lately has been much on that vein for me. I many times in life past and present have been a grass is greener type when I’m in a pity mood. Your post is such a great reminder to be grateful, and the good Lord and reading his word has helped when I’m not cherishing my blessings. Truth on we live in a blessed world of running water, etc when we see the misfortunes of other countries.

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    1. I often think of the blessing of running water during canning season. I’m sure our grandmothers had to carry the water they used into the house and find a way to dispose of all their waste water.
      We’re so blessed.

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  14. Michele, this is so good. I love the reminder about the Apostle Paul. You know, not only do I need to work on my attitude of thankfulness, but I also need to work on being content. It can be such a struggle for me.

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  15. Michele, I remember going through this very thing when we were renovating our kitchen also, and it does take a certain amount of stepping back and just letting go, but you already know that:) This question is such a valid one, and I’ve asked it many times throughout my own messy journey…”Knowing what I know about the sovereignty of God and the blessing that comes after the patient submission to process, can I practice gratitude in the midst of the mess?” I think you’ve hit such a key point here in the sovereignty of God and patient submission. Both bring a level of peace and gratitude impossible to obtain on our own.

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  16. Oh, I’m all about the pumpkin pie! We seem to eat apple all year round but pumpkin is only in this season. 🙂 I love that quote…contentment and thankfulness go hand in hand.

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  17. Thanks for sharing this encouragement at Booknificent Thursday on Mommynificent.com! I was blessed by your thoughts and the good advice you shared at the end! 🙂 Praying your kitchen is done as soon as possible and you gain even more grace in the process!
    Tina

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