Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Colossians 3:15 (NIV)
It was not a good night. Whether hormonal, emotional, or distracted by ADD, my racing brain sent too many thoughts whirling through my inner space; the distance between me and Jesus seemed to grow by the minute.
“Appreciation story,” the book said, and I groaned. Not another gimmick. Our friends sat across from us, scribbling notes quickly, engrossed in finding just the right descriptions, just the right stories. As a group leader, I had to participate whether I liked it or not, but anxiety ate at my composure . I knew all about “appreciation stories,” short descriptions of someone or something that had brightened the day. I did not, however, like to cover over my feelings with behavior that a friend once termed “relentlessly positive.”
Sighing loudly, I scratched out some thoughts. They were not lies, I assured myself. I really did appreciate my friends. Their smiles were lively and their eyes were warm and reassuring. Their prayers and hugs pointed me to Jesus and away from distress. Now if I could just tell the story and mean it.
Another deep breath. Before I knew the words to say, I started talking It wasn’t hard, really, to tell these people I loved…. that, well, I loved them. It wasn’t hard to tell them that I always looked forward to seeing them, to sharing, to praying; that I was truly grateful and I appreciated the part they played in my life. I described how tense I was coming in and how calm I’d feel leaving. We laughed, they empathized, they agreed.
And, just like that, my anxiety left. The distance between me and Jesus? Gone. The nagging doubts and self-judgments? Not a trace. Whaaaa?
I should have known. Well, I DID know. I’d read it, but I hadn’t believed. In the brain, anxiety and gratefulness occupy the same space, experts say, and you can only process one at a time. So all anxiety had to leave when gratefulness showed up.
Gratefulness opens the gates of Heaven. I can’t be anxious at the same time I am expressing appreciation. Intimacy with God follows close behind.
It’s not a gimmick, it is a key. I don’t have to manufacture appreciation – it’s there all around me every day. I genuinely do appreciate the amazing gifts of God, the wonders of nature, the amazing skill of my doctor/surgeon, the kindness of my neighbor, and the dear servant heart of my husband (who makes the dinner and washes the dishes without me asking!)
This is just one step further. I need to tell, with my mouth, TELL the stories. I have to describe my emotions, how grateful I feel, what I love about Jesus, what I appreciate about these dear people. And the very telling and reliving of the story realigns neural pathways and replaces anxiety with gratefulness and joy. Amazingly, I am as grateful as my story says I am!