One morning, I was in a funk. I was tired, and I had a busy day coming up. On top of those everyday complaints, a snowstorm had blown another few inches of snow into my town, and I was not feelin it anymore. While I ate breakfast and got dressed, I brooded on all the things I had to do and how un-excited I was. By the time I sat down with my Bible, I felt pretty indifferent to whatever the day had in store.
I happened to have a little study about gratitude from a Cru retreat I had recently gone to. The bulk of it simply gave prompts to inspire you to give thanks for different categories of things. And so, I started. Sitting with my disgruntled-ness about the world and the snow and my sleepy eyes, I cracked open my journal to give thanks.
The prompts surprised me. It didn’t result in your run-of-the-mill list. There were three prompts for the area of faith: salvation, sanctification, and glorification. I wrote down specific things I love about my faith story. Then, there was a prompt for each of the five senses. It inspired me to write about my favorite little things in life. The last prompt was my favorite, though. It had me write detailed things I appreciate about the people I love.
After half an hour of soaking up all the good things in life and thanking God for them, I felt way more peaceful and prepared to look for the good in the day.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Wow, that’s great. You did gratitude and it worked. How cute.”
And I get it. When I’m in a bad mood or bad situation and I’m told to count my blessings, it’s irritating. Gratitude can feel like a band-aid prescribed to cover up all your worries. I'd rather either 1) figure out what to do to fix the situation or 2) just stew in my bad mood.
But giving thanks does something unexpected: it draws you out of yourself. When you take a wide-angled look at your life and all the good in it past and present, it’s hard to feel entitled to complaining. And on top of that, we don’t have to feel vaguely grateful to the ‘universe,’ but we get to pray to our Creator and thank him specifically for every good thing!
One cautionary, though. Even in gratitude, we can feel a bit proud. “Look at all the good stuff God’s given me!” We can start to feel that we deserve the good life we have. I got a little giddy just looking over my long list. Let’s humbly remember that even our breath is an unearned gift! This is the whole point of gratitude: to realize that God has been good to us in ways we don’t deserve. He blesses us out of his love, but his love isn’t any smaller for someone with less money, friends, or education.
More than a list
In the end, giving thanks is about so much more than scribbling down a list and feeling better. For gratitude to really shape our thinking and our lives, we have to re-program our brains. We strive to go from complaints and worries to awe and joy at the smallest things.
Gratitude should transform our prayers, too. Instead of running to God with a list of requests, we can take a few minutes to just sit in his presence, admire him, and thank him. For years now, I’ve started my morning prayer with “Dear God, thank you for this day.” Even when it feels repetitive, it does remind me that the day is a gift. It reminds me to be humble. Prayer is the first step to any kind of transformation!
So, all that to say, giving thanks is powerful. Even if you feel like it’s a cliché or you’d rather not take the pause it requires, I recommend it in any and every situation. Let’s recognize the graces the Lord has given us!
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
People are tired of being busy. We’ve been worn down by the “do-it-all” mentality and have experienced its negative effects. In response, the self-care movement has put itself forward: inspiring us to rest, take care of ourselves, and enjoy the little things in life.
Take care of yo’ self!
I really took hold of these ideas last summer. While working at a youth mission trip camp, I learned a lot about my limits. I realized I try to be self-sufficient and would rather work my tail off than ask for help. I learned very quickly that I had to rest: for my own good and for everyone else’s good!
The experience taught me a simple truth: Humans have limits. I think that’s partly why we need sleep, food, and water: these routines remind us that we aren’t self-sufficient! Taking care of ourselves is crucial, and we’ll talk more about that in a minute.
But I’ve also experienced the other side of self-care: the side that quickly becomes selfishness and laziness.
When I’ve practiced self-care in an unhealthy way, I’ve adopted a “me-first” mindset. And it makes sense, because the world is constantly telling us to indulge! We’re told to get a manicure, buy an over-priced coffee, or watch a season of Netflix, to escape our complicated, real lives for a few minutes. It’s easy to take things like these too far.
The anthem becomes “put your well-being above anyone else’s, because you deserve it, for goodness sakes!” There’s an overwhelming pull towards selfishness.
And I think that’s why Christians feel like they must resist self-care. In the fear of appearing lazy, we idolize busyness and effectiveness: even looking down on people who do take care of themselves. How many times have you heard someone laugh at the idea of sleeping enough or having an evening to themselves?
So, we see, there are two sides to self-care.
Why would a Christian do that?
All this information might feel overwhelming. You’re saying, “Great! One more thing for me to balance in my life.” I get it. But there is a healthy and Godly way to practice self-care, and I think it’s worth learning.
First, let’s review the “why.” Why do we need self-care? We have limits, but sometimes we try to become super-human: running about the world caring for others, doing our jobs, and serving God while ignoring basic needs and joys. That’s not a sustainable way to live or even to serve God, so we have to decide it’s not an option!
Even Jesus took care of himself. He rested, withdrew from the crowds, and most importantly, spent a lot of time in prayer.
Now, let’s establish the goal. There are a few things self-care should work towards: (1) a thriving relationship with God, (2) the capacity to serve others sustainably, and (3) our own physical health.
Jesus commands us to ‘love your neighbor as yourselves,’ which stems from the assumption that we do love and take care of ourselves! In obeying this, we are also showing love towards God. Self-care can work for the good of all three: God, others, and ourselves! This challenges the worldly anthem to simply do things for yourself and put yourself first.
It’s more about stewardship than indulgence.
How to actually do this thing
Now it’s time to make a self-care plan! This is where people will vary based on personality, season of life, and preferences, and that’s ok!
Start by thinking on this question: What do your soul and body need? Spending time with God (prayer + Bible reading) is our biggest need, so I’d encourage you to put that on your list first. Then, think of other healthy practices you need to prioritize. I prioritize getting 8 ½ hours of sleep, which may sound impossible, but I am seriously delirious the next day if I don’t. I also try my best to eat energizing meals and relax in some way in the evenings.
Additionally, think of small things that add both joy and rest to your days. Some of these things for me are reading, talking to my friends, doing creative stuff, and listening to podcasts. These small things present themselves as you go throughout a day. All we have to do is seize the opportunities!
So, that’s it! I’m glad to have learned about the many faces of self-care, and I hope this post hasn’t been too confusing. Honestly, no one will ever strike the perfect balance. Maybe some days you’ll be exhausted and busy and legitimately won’t have time for these practices. And maybe some days you’ll be able to rest and recharge for hours. That’s all okay! The most important thing is to follow God’s lead each day and seek his will and his rest wherever he takes us.
A few blog posts that helped me write this one :)
Faithfulness in the small things matters:
How I talk to the kids I tutor.
How I study and work in college.
How I encourage my friends.
It matters for all of us, in every aspect of life. When we are faithful with even the smallest, simplest things, we prepare our hearts and hands for whatever God has laid out in the future.
It’s so true! The small stuff impacts the future in huge ways. Consider how even the slightest decisions, interactions, and words impact who you are as a whole. Picture a day where you speak kindly, make sacrifices for others’ good, and work hard at what you do. Even as splattered with sin and imperfection as that day would be, imagine the difference the good stuff would make on your tendencies and mind!
The verse above is taken from a parable Jesus told to illustrate the importance of faithfulness in small things. In the story, a man is hired to take care of his master’s money. When he is eventually accused of wasting the money, he hurriedly avoids his master’s wrath by enacting a shrewd, although dishonest, plan. If only he had been faithful in the first place! (Luke 16:1-15)
When I read this story, I think of all the things God has given me to faithfully care for: my friends, money, free time, classes, the people I see at work. . . I’m sure you can easily think of your own list: a list that speaks volumes about where your life is, who’s in it, and what God has given you.
I also think of how these things require faithfulness in the small stuff, to ever add up to something significant. For example, college requires many nights of studying, endless typing on a laptop, and hours sitting in class: but it all adds up to a degree. Friendships require taking the time to hang out, the care to have intentional conversations, and the sacrifice to help each other: but it all adds up to companionship and joy. Even my blog has required faithfulness in the small stuff. I’ve written here for more than two years: from weeks when barely thirty people saw the post to weeks where I’m amazed at how many people found my little website!
The point is, God calls us to be faithful to everything he’s given us: even when the tasks feel insignificant. Even when other people look like they’re having way more fun or way more impact. Even when progress is puny or invisible to the human eye.
We each have a duty to care for and use what God has given us. And oh, what a proud Father he is, grinning as he watches us seize opportunities, ask him for guidance, and pour our passions and energy into assignments from his very hands.
So, I want to fulfil his purposes with joy. Not with a frantic impulse to do more or be more, and not with any type of underlying grudge or competition against others. Rather, I want to do it with joy and gratitude for every breath and every movement of my muscles and every beat of my heart that allows me to be alive for the thing.
How about you?
Self-reflection exhausts me. I’m always noticing things I need to change to become more Christ-like. Being a perfectionist doesn’t help the problem, either.
Can you identify with that? We’re always working to be better at our jobs, more loving to our friends, more productive, more God-honoring. And even after a day of striving, we sit down in the quiet of the evening and realize that we’ve fallen short so many times. This striving has brought me to tears recently.
We are so critical of ourselves.
So, I want to bring some much-needed life and grace to this scene. God has spoken to my heart in this area recently. He definitely knew I needed it. Here’s a verse he showed me:
The prospect of the righteous is joy. Proverbs 10:28a
We, the righteous
God calls us righteous. That’s the opposite of the view I’ve seen so often expressed in Christian books, talks, and even casual conversations. We call ourselves totally depraved, and fixate endlessly on the graveness of our sin, but seldom venture beyond that point. Do we remember that we have a Savior who has transformed literally everything?!
He not only gave us future entry into heaven but copied his righteousness onto our souls: right here on the earth, right now. We have his perfection pressed onto our images. What a gift!
Remember to look ahead
This verse also reminds me to look ahead. While self-criticism is an unhappy re-living of the past, our hope as Christians is found in our future. Our prospect is a joyful entry into heaven, the completion of every good work our Lord has begun in us, and the very presence of God!
...being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. -Philippians 1:6
These are two realities. Rock-solid. True no matter how we feel. So even when we mess up, our loving Father doesn’t look down on us with anger or impatience. He instead sees us as his children: bought with a price, and generously given grace. He knows the work still to be done on us, yet he also sees what we will be when we are with him in heaven.
C.S. Lewis has an interesting perspective on this:
Children and fools, we are told, should never look at half-done work; and we are not yet, I trust, even half-done. You and I wouldn’t, at all stages, think it wise to tell a pupil exactly what we thought of his quality. It is much more important that he should know what to do next. -C.S. Lewis
Just focus on the next step. What wisdom! God will ask us to change certain things, and we will always be working to become more like him. Yet in the meantime, while we’re trying to follow his lead and live with his heart, he has endless grace for our mistakes, struggles, and imperfections. Don’t become disheartened, friend. The prospect of the righteous is joy.
A few days ago, I was reading and journaling about humility. I was really going to town: highlighting, reading, scribbling notes. I envisioned myself going throughout my day in humble serenity, serving others and choosing lowly places for God’s glory.
But then. . . God gave me some practice opportunities. Ah, yes. Don’t you just hate it when you pray about a certain virtue, and God actually makes you practice it? Like when I pray for patience, and my entire day goes wrong. Or I pray for a strong love for others, and everyone seems particularly unlovable. Well, here I was again: practicing.
The day really wasn’t bad. It’s just that I let certain things get to me. A kid at my job was disappointed I was there instead of a different tutor. A meeting left me feeling like I wasn’t doing enough compared to my peers. Then in coming days, I was asked to do a task I really, really didn’t want to do—so I basically threw a twenty-year-old-tantrum.
And weaving all these ‘tragedies’ together was the fact that I felt unrecognized for my efforts.
I definitely failed the practice trials. While that saddens me, I’m glad God is showing me yet another way I can become more like him. His word is unfailing, and at times speaks directly to the ugliest places in our hearts. If we’re willing to change, we will be glad to see those places budding new life.
Here’s the passage that inspired these thoughts:
One Sabbath, Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee. . .When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 14:1, 7-11, emphasis added
The Pharisees loved being recognized for their high standing in society. No matter where they went, they expected to receive honor and preference. So naturally when they came to this meal, they snatched up the best seats. Jesus was so straightforward to say that they were in error. What if someone worthier than the Pharisees came?
Concerning this, Matthew Henry wrote: "It ought to check our high thoughts of ourselves to think how many there are that are more honourable than we.”
While we probably don’t strut about our lives loudly demanding respect, pride shows itself in many other ways. I’ve made a list below. Consider if you’ve ever displayed the following:
Ok, yikes. I was able to make such an extensive list because I was pulling examples from my own life. We can see that pride is not always easy to catch or change, because it’s made a home in our most learned, impulsive actions and thoughts.
And Jesus sees it far more clearly than we do.
“Even in the common actions of life, Christ’s eye is upon us, and he marks what we do, not only in our religious assemblies, but at our tables, and makes remarks upon it.”
-Matthew Henry Commentary
The good news is, the offer still stands. “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matt 23:12)
What would it look like for us to live a life of humbling ourselves? Of choosing lowly places, and honestly being okay with it? For one, I think I’d have a lot more peace. I would also be a much more joyful and fruitful servant. I’d be more focused on others than myself!
Imagine choosing a bad seat at church so someone else can see better. Quietly doing small tasks others don’t want to do. Choosing a far-away parking spot so others can park closer. Serving out of the joy of service, not the hope of being thanked. Living not to feed our ego, or with a chip on our shoulder when we’re unrecognized, but out of pure love.
I’ll be the first to say that living this way is hard. Obviously. But it’s something worth striving towards. Maybe within a week of trying you’ll see four victories and fifteen failures, but at least you’re trying. At least you’re aware of it. Imagine what God can do with a willing, submissive spirit over just a few years! Let’s choose lowly places. Let’s live in such a humble way that the world takes notice.
Hello! I'm Anna, a college student living in the Midwest. I'm a strong believer in uncontrollable laughter, powerful words, and a morning cup of coffee. I pray these posts will encourage you to live a full life with and for God: unhindered. Follow me on social media for post updates!