I stopped during a road trip for the usual infusion of a caffeinated product. I visited the coffee shop restroom first and noticed that it could use a bit of attention. But I recognized that this was an extremely high-volume pit stop and gave the workers some grace that they were trying to keep up with drink orders more complex than the tax code.
As I was waiting for my drink to arrive, a woman rejoined her husband after visiting the aforementioned restroom. She left no doubt about her feelings.
“I have never seen such a disgusting and filthy mess. There were paper towels overflowing the containers.”
Her face looked like she had just left a construction-site portable toilet on a searing summer afternoon. Seriously? You have never seen such a disgusting mess? A few paper towels on the floor drives you to that level of hyperbole? Have you seen the conditions that people live in around the world? Do you see the conditions the poor endure in our own country? This coffee shop restroom is distressing you that much?
I was reveling in self-righteous judgment, and then it hit me. That is me. I complain about minor aggravations as if they were actual problems. And yet my first response was to condemn this woman.
I thought about how much I dislike being around people who find fault with everything and, conversely, find little to be grateful for. I know that I look for any excuse to remove myself from their company. But until I came across the following study, I had no idea how important it was to avoid ingrates.
Neuroscientists have learned to measure brain activity when faced with various stimuli, including being involved in a full-on gripe fest. The results are sobering: “Being exposed to too much complaining can actually make you dumb. Research shows that exposure to 30 minutes or more of negativity—including viewing such material on TV—actually peels away neurons in the brain’s hippocampus.”1
The hippocampus is the part of the brain involved in problem solving. So scientists have determined that complaining or listening to complainers makes us less able to solve problems. This is not a risk I can afford to take. The article offers some ideas on how to keep your neurons safely in place, but I decided to go back to the Owner’s Manual.
James reminds us that all gifts come from God: Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. James 1:17
Paul pens a pretty strong directive: Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18
I get it. I should be thankful for both clean and not-so-clean restrooms. I don’t mean to be flippant, but the point is that being grateful really is an attitude. Gratitude is a mind-set, and I am praying that the response of appreciation can become a lifestyle for me, with some practice.
It is easy to be grateful for the good things. Accepting with thankfulness the bad and sorrowful takes faith and trust that God is faithful with His children. I cannot claim to be grateful until I can simply say thank you for everything that comes my way, recognizing that every event will bring joy, character, perseverance, or ultimately, glory to God.
I know that some seasons of life are difficult, and some days you just hope to survive. But I think that the majority of us would admit that we can find something to be grateful for, even in moments of frustration.
Gratitude is the stabilizer for my spiritual walk. I think I can make a pretty good case that growing a grateful heart is the foundational attitude of the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It is that important. Gratitude keeps me from envy, if I can mentally pivot to the many things I am blessed to enjoy. Gratitude keeps me from anger, if I can be grateful for how patient God is with my myriad of shortcomings. Gratitude keeps me from frustration, when it reminds me how much worse things could be.
I have programmed a trigger into my gratitude response. When I start getting cranky about my back pain, I think of my friends who live in constant pain. I become grateful that my pain is not constant, and I am reminded to pray for them. A simple mind-set change can take me from self-pity to prayer for others.
I am also being prompted to pray for anyone who makes me angry with his or her thoughtlessness or rudeness. What is hurting that person’s heart so much that the response is filled with such venom? Full disclosure . . . I am not there yet. But when I can respond with an attitude of gratitude, it is the most freeing feeling. Maybe that is the best way to be grateful consistently. When I get outside my little world and see the suffering and sadness around me, I fall to my knees in thanksgiving for how fortunate I am.
Today when you find yourself being tempted to complain, pray for a grateful heart, and see if there is something you can be grateful for in that moment. There almost always is.
Wishing you a Healthy and Happy New Year from all the Hurdle’s Tall and Not So Small!