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The great Thanksgiving challenge

The Life Less Traveled

November 02, 2011
If you ever need tips on feeling sorry for yourself, stop by sometime. I'd be glad to help you out. I'm quite good at it. Take this week, for instance. I've had a cold that's been dragging me down and a busy week with work and family stuff. You'd think I have the plague the way I've been moping around and complaining.

It reminds me of how prone I am to self pity, a sure sign that I need solid dose of good old-fashioned Thanksgiving. I'm not talking about turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie (though that surely couldn't hurt). No, I'm talking about developing a lifestyle of thankfulness.

I know it's a little early to talk about Thanksgiving. We're barely into November, but I have a problem, so it's time to come clean. I stink at being thankful.

I'm genuinely thankful about three or four times a year. Other times I say I'm thankful, but what I really mean is that I'm just happy about something. I'm not actually telling God thanks for anything or living in a way that expresses gratitude.

So, why not? What keeps me from developing a lifestyle of thankfulness? Here's my short list.

Busyness: Often I rush from one thing to the next, not slowing down enough to take a breath, let alone appreciate what God's given me.

Entitlement: My natural selfishness tells me I deserve all of the good things I have, plus a whole lot more.

Negativity: I have a tendency to focus on what's wrong in my life instead of what's right.

Comparisons: I'm prone to comparing up. I may have a car that runs, but it's not as nice as my neighbor's and that diminishes my gratitude.

Self-reliance: Even though I know better, I have a tendency to delude myself into thinking I've orchestrated my own blessings.

Lack of discipline: Living a thankful life is hard work and requires me to give God a little too much of my time and attention.

True thankfulness means I give God credit for what He's given me and express it to Him in a personal way. That means I need to take time to tell God specifically what I'm thankful for.

Imagine if my wife bought me a 3-D television for my birthday (OK, maybe that requires too much imagination), and imagine that I went around telling everyone how grateful I am for the gift. But what if I never actually said thanks to my wife? What if I never even mentioned it to her? What if, in fact, I ignored her altogether?

Would she say I'm thankful? Probably not.

Thankfulness isn't just focusing on the positive things in my life but actually expressing thanks to the giver of the gift. It's not just about words, but living a life that shows I have a thankful heart.

But how do I get there? Or, at least, how do I take a step in that direction?

A couple of years ago, I came up with the idea of keeping a thankfulness journal for the month of November to help me develop the discipline of continual thanksgiving. I thought it would be cool to write out a simple, daily prayer expressing sincere gratitude to God for both the big and small blessings in my everyday life.

Unfortunately, I usually don't remember this idea until I'm watching the Macy's Thanksgiving parade on TV. Oh well, I think, maybe next year. But then, of course, the next year I do the same thing.

The one year I did remember it, I lost steam about three days in and gave it up. What I need is some serious, hard-core accountability. What I need are some friends to help me out here. What I need is the threat of public ridicule and humiliation if I don't follow through.

That's where you come in.

Every day for the month of November leading up to Thanksgiving, I'm going to write a short blog post about one thing I'm thankful for that day. I call it "The Great Thanksgiving Challenge." If I weasel out and don't post about thankfulness each day, it will be right there for all the world to see.

However, I think it's worth the risk, and I'm inviting you to join me. If you'd like to develop the habit of thankfulness along with me and think you're up for the challenge, just visit my blog at www.jasonbyerly.com and leave a comment in that day's post about one thing you're thankful for that day.

I'm hoping that if we both do this, we'll cruise into Thanksgiving, not just with bellies bursting with food, but with hearts that are bursting with gratitude.

Jason Byerly, a 1990 graduate of Crawford County Junior-Senior High School, is the children's pastor at Southland Christian Church near Lexington, Ky. He and his wife have two daughters. For more from Byerly, visit www.jasonbyerly.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/jasondbyerly.

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