It’s funny how life goes. Even when everything seems to be going well, it can feel like there is something missing – and for me it is probably as simple as hormonal balance. Who knows, but lately I’ve been in a little bit of a funk. I don’t know why. Has it ever happened to you? I feel like I’m less faithful, less worthy, less loving, and less able. I feel a little overwhelmed, even though I’m not sure exactly what’s overwhelming me. I mean, my life, in and of itself, is very easy. There is nothing to feel “overwhelmed” by, but it is typical discouragement which is causing a struggle.
Which leads me to the cure: Gratitude…
Counting my blessings always works for me. Wait. It usually works for me. I feel depressed, I count my blessings, I see that the Lord loves me and I’m happy again. Works for you, right?… Not always. There are times when I count my blessings, and I feel genuinely grateful, but I don’t feel better.
My life is good. I have an amazing husband and children. I live in a beautiful home in the woods. I don’t have to go to work anymore. I’m able to be at home and watch my kids develop and play. I don’t miss any of the things that happen anymore.
I recognize my blessings, and these things make me happy, but I still find myself in a little bit of a weird mood. I still feel a little melancholy, then I get kind of frustrated that I feel this way.
I think that the continued “funkiness” and frustration is because gratitude is an attitude. It is a motivator. It’s not something you sit down and do once. It is a way of being. It will push us forward.
Recently, Elder Uchtdorf gave an excellent talk on happiness. The two cures he highlighted – creativity and service – are rooted in gratitude. We can turn that list of blessings counted into an action plan.
I have learned that I am a woman who yearns for creative expression. This can be accomplished in many ways – a painting, listening to good music, going for a run, or making a really yummy dinner. I need to be creative. What better way to express gratitude than to take it further by expressing thanks through a creation?
One of the biggest indicators if I’m happy or a little depressed is whether or not I’ve been creative. I’ve found that if I’m spending my time on chores, errands, and other things that keep me busy – sure I may feel “productive”, but at the end of the day it seems like it is meaningless. What is the real importance in a trip to target? Why am I always running around? It is hard to be grateful when we’re too busy to “stop and smell the roses.” It is even harder to create when we haven’t taken the time to be grateful!
So…slow it down. Today, I’ve spent a little time on my back porch – taking in the woods. I watched a goldfinch pick the seeds from a thistle growing in my backyard. As fun as it is to see Finches at the feeder (from my window), it is more amazing to see them eating from a plant – their gold and black wings a spectacle in the thick green of my backyard. Also…thistles don’t seem like weeds when you see that they attract beautiful birds and butterflies. Moments like this, where I experience the creation that was made by my Heavenly Father seem to renew my soul. I feel thankfulness wash over me – that I’m a part of this world – that He created it for me. That, even though I am an insignificant spec on this earth, He knows me and loves me, personally.
This morning, I went on a run with a friend. It was hard work, but in some ways, taking time to create a stronger circulatory system, taking time to create a better booty (I’m hoping…;) ) was fun. I can’t think of a better way to show gratitude for this body that I’ve been blessed with – a body that works, functions, and is beautiful – than to do something to take care of it. Plus, my friend and I had great conversation, and I returned home, before 7 AM, invigorated and excited about the day.
In my “queue” are two paintings. I’ve worked on the thumbnails, and have sketched on canvas. I’m completely giddy about squeezing a tube of oil paint, smelling the thinner, and creating something that will bring me a little joy and beauty. Both of these paintings have been motivated by my gratitude for various blessings. One painting is going to be an expression meant to celebrate my brother’s life. He passed away a few months ago. It has been really sad. Not only do I mourn for my loss, but it has been really hard to see my dad go through this. I’ve been thinking about my brother, how grateful I am that I had a relationship, and I’ve been thinking about my dad – how grateful I am to have him as a father, and I’ve been moved to create a work that expresses this feeling.
I hate when I forget how amazing creating is. It helps me to look at the world around me with a more grateful and fine-tuned eye. I hate when I get caught up with the “race”, and I forget to make something for the sake of making it. I hate when I forget that I’m a creative being, and that life is about producing, not consuming. I hate when I get so busy that I forget to notice – let alone be grateful for – the purple thistle – even if it is a weed. I hate when I get so caught up with other things, I don’t take time to create memories, happiness, and moments with my children. Why do I get “down in the dumps?” Because I forget to make stuff. I forget how important it is to create. I forget that creation is an ultimate expression of gratitude.
(and maybe I should add – with a smile.)
Sometimes, when I think of service, I think of all the ways that I could be serving others, and how I need to do more, and then I start thinking that I’m not doing enough, and that maybe the women I visit teach don’t know that I love them, and that maybe the young women don’t realize that I am so inspired by them, and that maybe…you get the idea.
But that’s not the point. Service isn’t about filling out some list. Service isn’t about helping others – or doing stuff for others. Service is about expressing our gratitude and love to our Father. After that, then it becomes about helping others – because we Love them, too.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul teaches:
“3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” – 1 Corinthians 13:3
Service and Charity are not the same. It is possible to serve without love. It is possible to make ourselves busy doing nice things for others – and while they may appreciate it – it is pointless and even difficult for us – because it is not based in gratitude or Love.
I need to remember that my life is already full of service, and I can do it with gratitude and charity. Instead of trying to fit more on my plate, perhaps I can make sure that what is on my plate is really good.
I have four kids. I have the opportunity to serve twenty-four hours a day. Instead of feeling trapped by these responsibilities, I can think of the childhood I’m hoping to create for them, and do it. (Wow – now service and creativity are coming together here! woo hoo!). There is a week left of summer. Why am I just now taking time to hang out on the porch while the kids make play-doh hearts and “sandwiches”. They don’t even want me to but in. We are all happy together – even when we’re doing our own thing. And I’m out here, typing on the porch, stopping periodically to admire their creations or shoo away a fly.
It does feel amazing to serve – and that is probably because when we serve, with fulness of heart, we are a conduit of Christ’s pure love. We can feel the Love that He has for us and for others – and it flows through us to the intended recipient. We simultaneously get soaked with His charity for others and us – and that is a pretty awesome side-effect. I need to serve – and not necessarily more, but definitely better – with my heart turned to the Savior and to those whom I serve – with happiness and respect – I need to serve with Love and thankfulness.
How do you express your gratitude in such a way that it helps you to overcome discouragement and puts you back on the path to the Lord? Have you shown your gratitude through creativity or service? If you have something to share, please do!