1. Be Thankful…

When life looks bleak to you – even on a sunny day – you know something needs to be done and fast. When my marriage of more than twenty years looked like it was over, our business was on the brink of bankruptcy and two of our three children were encountering severely stressful situations, life did indeed feel very bleak indeed.

I’ve never been one for panic attacks or even remote forms of depression but one miserable, Saturday afternoon, I was watching a football match in our bedroom – more out of the novelty of finally installing a TV in the bedroom than any loyalty to either team that was playing – when all of a sudden, I felt a very tangible wave of fear threatening to completely overwhelm me. I literally felt like I was in danger of being sucked into a whirlpool of negative emotions, from which I may well never escape. It was truly one of the most frightening things I have ever experienced. Thankfully, I had a barely-begun book next to me that I suddenly felt might be my only ammunition against this terrible premonition.

The book was called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. It had been a gift to my wife at the time but she hadn’t got on with it, so I was giving it a shot – without much faith to be honest. I mean, when life is stacking up against you – and I was acutely aware that I had very little to fight back with – it feels on the surface at least, that giving thanks for one thousand gifts is a pretty sick joke. This was the challenge laid down to Voskamp by a friend – after years of struggling through life – never fully recovering from the loss of her baby sister, who was run over by a delivery truck as a toddler, on the farm where the whole family lived in Ontario, Canada.

I am so thankful that I was able to push through and silently pray to God, “Okay, if this is all I have left to arm myself with against this relentless onslaught that feels like it has barely begun (there was indeed, a lot worse still to come) then please show me how I can even begin to be thankful.”

Despite the obvious aroma of cheesiness with what I am about to quote, I can only reveal that cheesy or not, this stuff absolutely and truly works in miraculous ways. I quickly learned that “Trust is the bridge from yesterday to tomorrow, built with planks of thanks.”

So, on 22nd February, 2014 I began my gratitude journal which I subtitled “Reasons to be Cheerful or Joyful 1, 2, 3…” By early May, 2016, I had finally reached my 1000th entry. The one rule I made myself when I embarked on this sole tool of sanity was not to set myself a target or goal of any sort – the risk of failure was way too high. If I could simply build an intermittent habit (an oxymoron if ever there was one!) then I knew it would grow on me and I would slowly but surely build it into my life.

As I’m sure you will understand, most of the entries are too personal to reel off, but here are just a few that I love every time I rediscover them.

  • Warmth of the sun
  • Sounds of children laughing
  • Alone but never alone
  • Walking through the mist into the clear, blue sky
  • Joy of awakening after a good night’s sleep
  • Perfect texture and consistency of my porridge

What this tells me – having just scanned through my entire list – is that not only does keeping some form of gratitude journal become vital for your mental health, positive spirituality and general sanity, it also provides you with a wonderful inventory of all the good things that took place during what was genuinely, a very difficult time. It enables me to see how far I have come, and that is always a great source of encouragement in itself.

  1. If You Don’t Pray, Find Something Meaningful

I remember those days sometimes as if they were only yesterday, even though they are in fact, seven years ago. I would take our two dogs – Molly and Rosie – for their morning walk, and not have anything to say to God. There were many reasons for this inability to converse with the Creator of the Universe, even though before I became a Christian, I had spent years talking to myself – to such an extent that when I did make that first step of faith, prayer was a welcome bonus of being a believer. Finally, I had someone to actually talk to instead of myself!

I understand of course, that not everyone is like me. Many people find it difficult to pray at the best of times – and never, ever in public. If for whatever reason, you struggle to put words together when attempting to acknowledge God or whoever you want to acknowledge, then simply find another means of doing so. For me, during the darkest of days, I would take time out to put on some contemporary worship music and either sit, stand or sometimes, even lie down and worship. Depending on where I was at, I would sing the words to the songs with all my heart or on other occasions, if I could barely sing through the tears of pain that threatened to engulf me, I would simply ‘be’ enjoying what I would call the presence of God.

Eventually, it no longer mattered. All that mattered to me was Him and His presence. I knew that if I could maintain a good level of regular intimacy, everything would flow from that and I would recover, eventually. I would no longer be worried about surviving because one day, I would be thriving.

Variety tends to help in these matters I find. For me, I could have a truly special time whilst walking the dogs in the rain – but even more special if the sun was shining! Equally, I could be standing in the middle of my lounge, with the music on full blast, having my very own one man gospel service. My other favourite place to go was the beach. At the time, I lived precisely thirteen minutes’ walk away from a lovely stretch of beach. During the summer, I spent seemingly endless times there, walking up and down the sandy beach at low tide, scaling the rocks and shingle at high tide. A beautiful song by U2 called Every Breaking Wave truly spoke to my heart during this time and brought the beginnings of lasting healing.

If you have the luxury of your own office and you’re easily able to create some privacy, why not spend some time during your lunch break thinking about something spiritual or at least something very different to your normal day to day stuff?