What can you do when you’re more depressed than a sock monkey and don’t know how to dig yourself out of a sticky morass of self-doubt, self-flagellation, self-disgust and all things self- hyphenated? There’s an old hymn that goes like this:
"Count your blessings, name them one by one.
Count your blessings see what God has done.
Count your blessings. Name them one by one,
Count your many blessings see what God has done.”
The lyrics could use some variety, but the point gets across. I once had a pastor who referred to the exercise of gratitude as “checking out your thank-er.” He would always start with his fingers. Holding up his hand he would say, “Consider your fingers.” And then he would begin naming the many bones in our hands. He’d get into our opposable thumbs and how nice it was that we weren’t apes. He’d talk about being able to play the piano and the guitar and draw and tickle and all the wonderful things we can do with our fingers, and there they were, just on the end of our arms!
I sometimes give my depressed clients, especially the teenagers who are mad about EVERYTHING, the assignment to list 10 things each day they are thankful for. Reorienting our thinking to focus on gratitude can be a powerful attitude adjuster. And it’s biblical: Here is just a smattering of verses that suggest being grateful is a mandate for God-honoring, healthy living:
Psalm 50:23a Whoever offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving glorifies me
Psalm 34:1 I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips
Psalm 95:2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.
Ephesians 5:19-20 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God
But how about noticing the things you love as a form of worship? Ann Voskamp in her book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are Today challenges her readers to enter what she calls eucharisteo or the habit of giving thanks for the little miracles of daily life. This mental discipline enables us to look for beauty in the smallest things, regarding them as evidence of God’s love and grace toward us. Whether it’s the iridescent bubbles in the dirty dishwater, the smell of a child’s hair after his bath, a delicious meal or sleeping next to your beloved – each gift, if noted, brings us closer to God and to experiencing the joy He promises us as believers.
And it’s not just the beautiful in our lives that is shot through with grace, but even those things that look anything but beautiful: the death of a loved one, our own failures, bouts of unbelief, even despair. There is evidence in scripture and even in our observations of people that experiencing the worst forms of tragedy and trauma can open our hearts, amazingly, to greater love and grace and joy than we’d experienced before.
One thing that prevents us from noticing beauty everywhere is our devilish tendency to always be in a hurry and to over-pack our lives with activity. We are so goal-oriented, so self-directed that we miss some of the most poignant moments of beauty around us. Or we’re so worried about pleasing others and paying attention to what we think they need that we’re all in a flurry and completely out of touch with the hunger in our own hearts for the beautiful.
Once when my oldest son was a toddler I remember visiting a friend who lived on the second floor of a two family house. As you descended the stairs you came face to face with a huge painting of a Brünnhilde-type woman, complete with helmet, shield, spear and armor. It was a terrifying picture that my son was not fond of. But underneath the picture on a little table was a vase containing a bouquet of blue, plastic roses. That day when my son reached the vase, he stood on his tiptoes, stuck his nose in the dusty, plastic buds and breathed deep. He smiled up at me and then hurried past the terrible picture. The phrase, “Take time to stop and smell the roses” always brings that image to mind. Although the grotesque and ugly may be more noticeable, there may be a little piece of beauty nearby and if not, there’s may be an innocent who is so beautiful in himself that he is capable of imagining beauty in the quirky or the mundane.