Gratitude journals spotlight God’s action
With colored pencils in hand, the Rev. Nancy Turner sits down in the morning light to write her thankfulness in the spiral graph paper notebook that has become her gratitude journal.
Turner, a deacon in the West Ohio Conference, has maintained this spiritual practice for several years and said it deeply impacts her life.
Whenever Turner sits down to write in her gratitude journal, she asks herself two questions.
"It's always asking both sides of this question: For what today am I most grateful? For what today am I least grateful?" Turner explained, adding that these questions are similar to asking about where God is moving in the world. "Where did I see God today? Where did I see the absence of God today? Both questions inform where you are."
Though Turner considers herself to be in a good season of life right now, this practice of gratitude journaling began during a time of desperation.
"It grew out of a very specific time in life," she said. "I'm a mom of two sons, and my younger son developed Type 1 diabetes when he was six years old. After that happened, for about five or six years, every year we had some big terrible thing that happened in life."
Emily Chastain, a leadership development specialist in the North Alabama Conference, began keeping a gratitude journal this summer after returning from the Wesley Pilgrimage where the rhythm helped her recognize a need to slow down and be reflective and contemplative.
"I was letting a Google calendar plan me so much that I didn't really have time to pause and think about the day," Chastain said, explaining why she started utilizing a combination planner/journal.
In the morning, as she's planning her day, Chastain writes down three things she's grateful for, and then at the end of the day, she returns to her journal and again writes down three gratitudes.
"It's a great way to frame the day and feel like the day has a lot more purpose," she said.
"I enjoy the ability to reflect in the morning and in the evening. I feel that has lowered my anxiety levels and has really made me look for God throughout the day."
Writing her gratitudes twice each day also helps Chastain recognize what brings her joy and what leads to discouragement. This gives her an opportunity to more intentionally make healthy choices in her schedule.
Turner also noticed a pattern in her journaling that proved helpful.
"I found that generally speaking, the things I was most grateful for were very simple," she said, "and the things I was least grateful for were things that I had absolutely no control over. That's a thing to just turn over to God.
"That experience has really informed my going forward," Turner said. "I think that experience of all those years and that continuous practice of paying attention have really helped me move forward in more positive and more optimistic ways."
Chastain encouraged others to give gratitude journaling a try and see if it helps create an awareness of God's presence.
"If you feel like God is not moving, take a week or two to really chart the things that happened, the things you're grateful for," Chastain said. "You start to realize that in every moment God is giving you great opportunities and letting you decide what you make of those. We forget that God shows up in the smallest of moments or in the kindest of emails that you weren't expecting."
Emily Snell is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is also on staff at The Upper Room. She writes frequently for Interpreter and other publications.