Gratitude and Healing: A Weird Formula

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“There is a weird formula I have observed in three decades of working with the broken: The greater the gratitude, the faster the healing journey! The less gratitude someone has, the more he or she is stuck in revenge, anger, bitterness, a sense of entitlement, and a victim mindset. There seems to be a direct correlation between the speed of the healing journey and one’s ability to forgive and be grateful.” I read these words the other day from Rebecca McDonald, founder of Women at Risk International, and I couldn’t agree more.

In my own journey towards healing, thanksgiving was and still is a powerful tool, a weapon really, in a battle against physical pain. I remember the days when I would literally keep an open journal on my table, and every time I took note of the tiniest thing to be thankful for, I would write it down. Because so much was happening that was negative, inspiring more fear, hopelessness, and loss of confidence, it became absolutely vital I identify every little blessing on a daily basis for which I was grateful. Because of this practice, it became second nature to me, and I no longer have to write it all down. But if I ever catch myself focusing on the negative, I begin this practice of penning all the evidences of God’s grace and favor on my life. And it is warfare! Every word I write is a bullet in the chest of the Liar, who suggests maybe God really isn’t all that good.

Rebecca went on to say this about the correlation between seeking justice for wrongdoing and the healing journey: “I have spent my time, resources, and energy to help our women find justice only to see time and time again that it doesn’t heal their deepest wounds. Justice is right! Don’t get me wrong. But it doesn’t magically make the pain of the scars go away.” Although I have not been the victim of any serious injustices, I found this fascinating because justice seems to be the highest prize we set our hearts upon when we have been a victim of discrimination, betrayal, abuse, or wrongdoing of any kind. However, healing still seems to elude those who obtain the prize of justice! Perhaps gratitude for what is still good is the more powerful healing agent.

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How to Survive a Deathblow and Live to Tell About It

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It is not a matter of if…it is a matter of when.  Nearly everyone at some point in their life (and sometimes multiple times) will be dealt a blow that knocks them off their feet, takes their breath away, and leaves them wondering if they will survive or causes them to wish they wouldn’t.  A deathblow is a thing or event that destroys life or hope, especially suddenly.

Over the course of the past decade, I was dealt a couple of these.  In this blog post I will not be telling the story of the events (that’s for another place and time) but rather offering four suggestions on how to survive a deathblow and ultimately thrive in another season of life.

A deathblow typically happens suddenly, out of the blue, sideswiping you and leaving you in a state of shock.  Deathblows cover a broad range of events and occurrences, and what may take one person out of the game of life, may simply be a short hiccup to another.  A major deathblow can be like an earthquake followed by multiple smaller tremors, leaving you wondering when the next one will hit.

Perhaps it is something you feared.  Perhaps it never entered your worst thoughts.  Perhaps it unfolded in slow motion and you couldn’t stop it.  Perhaps it struck like lightening…the death of a child, the diagnosis of cancer, the demise of a marriage, the downfall of a business, a horrible accident, a crippling illness, a sickening betrayal, or financial bankruptcy.

Maybe there were warning signs of impending danger that you ignored.  Maybe you made some very unwise choices.  Maybe you felt you caused it or contributed to it.  Maybe you were completely innocent of wrong.  Whatever the case, you have survived.  Now what?  Of course, some deathblows do end in, well, death…but that is not the case for you personally or you wouldn’t be reading this!

I honestly thought that somehow I was immune to something so dreadful that it would cause my life to come to a standstill.  As a Christian, I believed that God would protect me from that type of horror.  Sure, there were all the “ordinary” trials and troubles of life.  Each one was faced and overcome to some degree or another and I moved on.  But what happens when you think you won’t recover?  What happens when there is no way back to the life you once lived?  What then?

Entire books have been written on this subject, and this is just one simple blog post.  For the sake of brevity, I will offer just four, out of the many lessons from the furnace, that not only helped me survive but ultimately flourish in a new life.  No one taught me to do these things.  Somehow I intuitively or instinctively knew that I must… if I were to survive.

  1. Develop Circles of Support.  One of the first things I did was gather a circle of about 12 women whom I called on regularly for encouragement, prayer, wisdom, and sanity.  Some of them had suffered the same catastrophe and could offer very practical help.  We were meant to live life in community and all the more so when we think we are going down for the last time.  Within that circle, there were three whom I called upon nearly every day for a season, and I feared I would wear them out!  Contrarily, I soon discovered that pain is the great isolator.  God will give us many people to cheer us on and walk beside us, but only One can truly understand and share in our anguish, Christ Himself.  I came to discover that no pain is so deep that His love does not go deeper.
  2.  Keep a Favor Journal.  This is what I called my journal where I kept an ongoing list of evidences of God’s grace and favor on my   life.  Because so much was happening that was negative, inspiring fear, hopelessness, and loss of confidence, it became absolutely vital that I identify every little blessing for which I was grateful on a daily basis.  I actually left this journal laying out so I could review it regularly.  Because of this practice, it is now second nature to me, and I no longer have to write it all down.  You may think, “Oh, isn’t that sweet?  What a nice little idea!”  Oh, no, that was warfare!  As life came crashing down around me, every time I identified and gave thanks for the good that was still there, it shot down the lies that my life was over and God really didn’t care all that much about it.
  3. Keep a Truth Journal.  I called this journal, “Things I Know to Be True.”  You see, when everything is shaking and you are not sure what is going to be left of your life, you need to hang onto some things that never change.  It was important to me that I put them in my own words, not someone else’s.  Here I wrote down all that I knew to be true about God, His nature, His character, and my relationship to Him.  When you have been dealt a deathblow, everything you once took for granted that you knew, comes into question.  This is a time to know God, stripped of religiosity, in His most basic characteristics:  He is love, He is good, He is faithful, He is sovereign, He is wise, He is merciful.
  4. Keep a Shepherd’s Heart Journal.  This is what I called my ongoing list of other people whom I cared for and their needs and concerns. This helped get the focus off myself and onto others; thereby, dealing a deathblow of my own to self-pity, something I once entertained regularly!  Here I wrote out my prayers for others, ideas on how I could bless and help them, and how I carried out those plans.  Every time I extended care to others in the midst of my own pain, I could feel life growing in me once again.

“And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” ~ St. Peter