Experts (whoever they are) tell us that one of the great challenges of Covid’s impact last year and its 2021 remnants is the issue of negative emotions. There are plenty of disappointments, changes, deaths, and losses to go around.
Whether we articulate it or not, the result is that we all grieve at some level of loss. Some lost more than others. Some key milestones in life were cancelled. Some organizations will never be the same. But we all grieve, and if we choose to internalize our grief, the result usually is negative—toxic emotions such as a level of depression, stress, physiological anomalies, outbursts of anger, etc.
Once we acknowledge we have suffered loss, what is one action we can do to repair our negative emotions? Have you tried expressing gratitude? Articulating gratitude has a way of healing our minds and emotions.
That is what a team of researchers from the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley University, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, found out in a study of 293 adults who were seeking the university’s psychotherapy services. They requested a group of the participants write one letter of gratitude each week for three weeks. The result of the study was that those who wrote letters of gratitude, compared to those who received only counseling, experienced significant improvement in mitigating negative emotions.
For Biblicists this doesn’t come as a big surprise. The Word of God has a way of flipping a frown into a smile. Check out three of my favorites:
• 1 Thessalonians 5:18 NASB, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus;”
• Colossians 3:15 NASB, “Let the peace of Christ, to which you were indeed called in one body rule in your hearts; and be thankful;”
• and 2 Corinthians 4:15-16 NASB, “For all things are for your sakes, so that grace, having spread to more and more people, will cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer self is decaying, our inner person is being renewed day by day.”
Praise to the Lord for these precious promises.
As we emerge from beneath the dark cloud of extraordinary events, we might consider practicing what the research group did—write a letter of gratitude. From their research, even if you never mail it, you still reap benefits. Articulating gratitude is the secret ointment to the soul. Just because you write one letter doesn’t mean you will find relief from negative emotions, but with time the Lord has a way of prospering your choice of faith to be grateful.
Even as I write this column, my mind is flooded with gratitude for:
• My Savior, the Lord Jesus. I am so grateful for His redemptive grace that saw me, a sinner in my need, and transformed my life. O how great a salvation is mine (and yours) in Christ.
• A special mom. Mother’s Day is right around the corner. My mom was that special para-teacher who took the rowdiest of students out of the classroom into the hall, sat on the floor and read to them—loved them—accepted them as a person. Her ultimate goal was to communicate the love of Christ to each student she had an opportunity to teach.
• A saintly wife who lights up the room when she walks in. She is a testimony of faith in the God who knows our days. Stage IV cancer has not impeded her zest for a life of beauty, grace, and purpose. She taught each of our sons the ways of God through the discipline of learning. Even now she teaches me something about living by faith day by day.
• Stewards of God who have not quivered with fear during these chaotic times. Instead, they have invested their lives and their resources with generosity through their local Baptist churches and into special gospel projects. They are awakened to the truth that financial resources and assets are technically not ours anyway. They are the Lord’s and the things they manage are His. In addition, I praise the Lord for their local churches’ giving to the Cooperative Program that impacts ministry in our state and touches the world with the gospel.
• State leaders who called Missourians to exercise common sense with the pandemic protocols. Now we are beginning to see more of the new normal in a post-Covid world while others are still hunkered down fearing another surge. We still have a way to go, but for the most part, we have not lost our civility whether in commerce, public life, or at church gatherings.
There are so many people who I could list today, but The Pathway doesn’t have enough pages to record them all.
Back to the researchers—by using a brain scanner on those who wrote the expressions of gratitude, the researchers found a lasting effect on the emotional health with their study group. Regardless of the science, expressing gratitude has a way of transforming our priorities away from ourselves and refocuses our energy on the people who have invested in us.
Pick up your pen, write a note to your pastor or mentor or teacher. Watch what God does by faith through your gratitude.