Building Up the Gratitude Muscle

muscleI was watching Dr. Oz yesterday, and Robin Roberts, the Good Morning America anchor, was on the show sharing her story of triumph over cancer and another disease caused by her cancer treatment. She credits her recovery to maintaining a positive attitude throughout each ordeal and to a spirit of gratitude, a phenomenon that even her physicians find interesting enough to research. She said that gratitude was like a muscle. I thought that statement was very profound, so I’ve decided to explore that analogy a little further in recognition of this season of thanksgiving. Let’s get ready to work our gratitude muscles, shall we?

There are several similarities between gratitude and a human muscle.

1. Gratitude, like a muscle, remains underdeveloped if it is not exercised. Have you ever seen someone who started out skinny as a twig and after months of weight lifting looked as big as an ox? It is amazing how much muscles can transform when a little iron is pumped. But what happens when that same man stops working out? The muscle mass is lost, and he ends up back where he started. In order to maintain growth he must continue to do what built up the muscles in the first place.  Hebrews 13:15 (KJV) says “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.” Praise, or gratitude, is expected of believers, and it is expected continually. The more we express our gratitude to God the more it builds us up, but if we refuse to do it or do it only sporadically, then our gratitude remains weak and so do we.

2. Gratitude is strained when pressure is applied to it. Lifting weights causes muscles to tear and that causes soreness in the muscles worked.  When those muscles are sore it can be difficult to continue exercising them and we want to quit, but when we continue it gets easier and easier over time. Similarly, when we face difficulties in our lives our attitude of gratitude is challenged and we feel as if gratitude is pointless or impossible, but that is when we should be grateful the most. It is much easier to have a pity party and go around complaining when things are not going our way, but the Bible tells us to give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for us (1 Thessalonians 5:8). God is very clear about when and in what situations we should be thankful–in everything and at all times. He did not say we should like or enjoy everything, but that we must maintain a thankful attitude through everything. Perhaps you don’t like your boss or your coworkers or the amount of money in your bank account or your relationship status.  There is still plenty to be thankful for in spite of it all.  Work through the tough times and no matter how painful things become press forward in praise.  The pain is good for you because it only leads to your growth.

3. The more you exercise gratitude the stronger you become and the more weight you can handle. When we lift weights regularly our muscles develop muscle memory.  The weight that seemed too heavy to lift one week becomes easier to lift the next week.  That’s because your muscles learned to adjust to the weight. The next time they are called upon to lift the original weight they are ready. They are stronger and ready for the next physical challenge. Gratitude works in much the same way. The familiar saying “trials come to make you strong” is true. Those trials are our opportunity to be built up in our faith and gratitude through practicing the habit of thankfulness. If we learn to be thankful when we find our bank account overdrawn one time, we can still be thankful if it happens again or if something worst happens to our money because we’ve learned how to handle it. In other words, the situations that shook you before won’t shake you anymore because you’re stronger and ready for the next spiritual challenge. Moreover, we will be able to say, “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57 KJV). I’ve witnessed others who have managed to keep a smile on their faces and a praise on their lips in what I would call the most difficult circumstances. That is true spiritual strength.  Hear this, that strength is not reserved for special people.  It is available for those who put in the work necessary to become stronger and better as a result of the things they go through.

Yes, gratitude is a muscle we cannot afford to leave undeveloped. It takes work, but the work pays off in strength that we never knew we had all along.

IJS

How will you develop your gratitude muscle?

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