By Elaine Creasman
There’s a new year here, and so many times we Christians who are going through hard times can have a “who cares” attitude. We mourn over the bad things that happened last year and have a certain dread about what lies ahead for us.
God has given me a remedy that keeps me from having a negative attitude about the new year, no matter what’s happening in my life. This entails compiling two lists. Both can be done at the end of the old year or at the start of the new.
The first is a Thank You, Lord list where I thank God in my journal for all the good that happened in the previous year. I mention the bad things—but only in a good way. In other words, I thank him for the good that came out of them. Some other categories I have on this list are: my job, new people I met, ministry, my relationships, my marriage, travels.
The second list is titled Godly Goals. Resolutions seem easy to break, so with these goals I invite God into the making of the list. Sometimes I divide the list into sections, such as Writing Goals, Music Pursuit Goals (I play the guitar and sing to various groups), or Taking Care of My Body Goals. The main portion of the list is to help me draw closer to the Lord and to grow as a Christian.
Here are three benefits I’ve discovered from making these lists:
I’m able to stay more focused on the Lord.
I confess that I can easily slip into negative thinking, especially when trials, traumas, and tragedies invade my life. For example, when I looked back on 2012, it would have been natural to be depressed and even despondent since my youngest brother who had no history of mental health issues committed suicide in the midst of a battle with chronic pain.
Yet here is some of what I wrote on my thank-you list for 2012 related to his death: Thank you, Lord, for comforting me after G’s death and for using it to draw me closer to you than I’ve ever been. Thank you that all my siblings and Mom and Dad made it to the funeral. Thank you that Tam and Min (my daughters) came to the funeral. (The funeral was in a faraway state, and it cost $1000 each for us to fly there, and time off of work was necessary). Thank you that you used G’s death to draw other family members closer to you. Thank you that I’m closer to my brothers and sisters than I’ve ever been before—because of G’s death.
The Word of God says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Writing this Thank You, Lord list helps me embrace this command and keep a godly perspective rather than letting my mind stay on the negative and the repeatedly asking “why” mode during especially hard times. As I write the list and allow the Lord to further stir my memory, I feel overwhelmed by how much God blessed me in the previous year.
As I’m writing out my list, this verse often comes to mind: “I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me” (Psalm 13:6).
The lists help me celebrate my spiritual progress.
When I look back on my Thank You, Lord and Godly Goals lists from previous years, I can see that I have made spiritual progress. One that stands out says: “Pray longer—for an hour or two at a time. Go to church and pray.”
I used to pray an hour a week in the prayer room at church. With my busier work schedule and with traumas and rejections from church people that still sting, I realized I had taken many steps back from church involvement. The good news is I’m back in the prayer room, back in a Sunday school class, and back to being connected to people and having a passion to pray with them, for them, and for our church. While in the prayer room, God is healing my heart over hurts suffered in my home church.
Several years ago I had as a Godly Goal: “When I hear God’s still small voice, I will respond promptly.” As I determined to do that, I realized what kept me from obeying promptly was fear of others. I’ve come far in overcoming that battle and have celebrated the truth of Proverbs 29:25: “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.”
My Thank You, Lord list shows my spiritual progress as I’m amazed at what I feel led to thank God for. One recent thank-you was, “Thank you, Lord, for unanswered prayer.”
I can encourage others.
These lists are written to be shared. I have read parts of them to patients on the psychiatric unit where I work to urge them to make lists of their own, especially since some patients say, “I have nothing to be thankful for” when I ask them to look over the past year. By getting in the habit of reviewing the year with a grateful heart, it’s easier and easier to do. In fact, when I first felt led to do the list, it had been a bad year, and I didn’t think I would have much to be thankful for. Once I began writing, I felt overwhelmed and wrote and wrote as God reminded me of how faithful he had been. Now I look forward with excitement to making my list and reviewing God’s blessings.
I’ve read my list at the writing group I attend. There we can focus on what we have to be thankful for as writers and look at the progress we have made rather than keeping our eyes fixed on the rejections of the book or articles that have not sold.
Other groups I have encouraged to make these lists near the new year are the ladies in my Bible study and those who read my weekly blog. I remind fellow Christians that making these lists is not just for writers. Anyone can do it, and it’s important to write down the list and not just think of it in your mind, so the lists can be looked at again and again as reminders of God’s faithfulness. It is also a record of what happened in each year.
Encouraging others to make these lists helps them maintain a grateful heart and be determined to accomplish something for the Lord each year. As I’m encouraging others to pursue these lists, this verse comes to mind: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13).
How the Lord rejoices when we let go of the sin of being ungrateful and of doing our own thing. Excitedly embracing the opposite gives us so much to celebrate in the new year.
Elaine Creasman is a freelance writer and part-time mental health tech in Largo, Florida.