You have turned my sorrow into joyful dancing. No longer am I sad and wearing sackcloth.[a] 12 I thank you from my heart, and I will never stop singing your praises, my LORD and my God.
– Psalm 30:11-12 (CEV)
What do you give thanks for this year? This is a question that hopefully will come up for you at some point this week. This is the most common time to have that conversation. It can be a good exercise, certainly. It is good to be thankful. It is a bit difficult, though, to jump into being thankful. It can be challenging to come up with something meaningful to say.
I daresay thankfulness is a form of spiritual fitness. In physical fitness, you cannot expect to do something once a year and expect your body to be ready for it. I remember a few years ago my children’s elementary school in Malaysia had their field day. The children were in various races and games at a local stadium. Near the end was the parents versus teachers 4×100 meter relay. The race was getting ready to start, but they were one parent short. I agreed to join the race. I had been jogging on the treadmill three times per week quite regularly and doing some other exercises, but I had not done all out sprinting in quite some time. Add to that being pulled in at the last second and so having no chance to warm up, and I was really ready for this kind of race. Nonetheless, I went to the track and when the baton came to me I took off. For the first 50 meters I actually built a lead. Then I felt my quad lock up, and for the last 50 meters I could barely walk. We fell well behind. It took me three weeks to walk easily again, though thankfully I suffered no major injury. Our bodies are not made to suddenly sprint after a year of not doing it. It takes consistency for our muscles to be ready for a different type of exercise.
So too, I suggest, with our spiritual muscles. We cannot simply jump into being truly thankful once a year. We can say the words, but it doesn’t build the depth of emotion and awareness needed for deep thankfulness. It requires regular practice – weekly if not daily – in order to develop the capacity to notice the things around us that we ought to be thankful for and to truly appreciate them. I would term that practice building the ability to see God at work in our lives. Doing it once a year is certainly a good thing, but is quite different from the thankfulness learned through consistently practicing being thankful.