Blessings that Keep Us from Drifting

My students are quite the reflective group and love to explore their lives in writing and discussion, so I started them journaling as a means of personal exploration.  However, instead of just giving them the task of daily reflection, I give them daily prompts like writing about “a time when you said something that you regretted saying afterwards” or about “a fear you conquered and how.”  This time, I asked them to list ten things for which they are grateful.  It seemed too elementary, and some even groaned, but I had a plan.  The next day, when reviewing our lists, I mentioned that too often we focus only on what is wrong in our life and not on what is right.  We look at the problems and not the blessings and how it’s important to anchor our lives back to the things that are wonderful to have.  I discussed my son who, in Tae Kwon Do, does meditations every day and repeats out loud how he is grateful for his family, health, and home.  Then, we each list two things for which we are grateful.  It seems a meaningless task, because the practice seems so forced, but I was surprised as to how it changes our focus.  When he meditates in class, his teacher asks the kids how many of them got up this morning, how many ate something, and how many can talk and hear.  He tells them about how there are many kids who can’t do those things, and the things for which we should be grateful are often times taken for granted.  In class, I then showed my students the short film “Chau, Beyond the Lines” (Netflix) about a Vietnamese teenager whose mother drank water tinged with Agent Orange, and he was then born with physical deformities.  He lives in an orphanage with other children in similar situations, where many of them lack arms, legs, and body muscle.  Chau just wants to be an artist, so he competes, but all the contests are timed, and what takes most kids 30 minutes takes him several hours. Even though he learns to hold the brush with his mouth, he still never wins. Lacking any strong muscles in his arms and legs, he struggles to get around and live what he calls a “normal” life, but by the end of the film, he manages to not only sell his artwork regularly, but to sustain an apartment on his own with that money.  And what is most notable is his attitude: although he struggles with even the simplest tasks, his radiant smile and sincere words reflect how he is grateful for so much in life.  He focuses on what is good in his life and refuses to be dragged down by what he cannot do.  In our lives, we hang our heads, miserable in our lives, ruminating on the negative details that pervade our existence, forgetting to anchor ourselves in our blessings despite being surrounded by them.  Thessalonians 3:18 tells us to “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” We tend to focus instead on what we don’t have and can’t do.  We have been blessed with so much in our lives and we take so much of it for granted.  Looking at Chau, we realize just how lucky we are, yet he considers himself lucky for what he can do.  If we spend time remembering our blessings, despite our situation, the focus on the things we lack fall to the wayside.  This week, develop a routine of focusing on what God has done for your life. Anchor yourself in your blessings and refuse to be mired in misery.  Amen.

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