The widest river in the world is not the Mississippi, Amazon, or Nile. The widest river on earth is a body of water called If Only. Throngs of people stand on its banks and cast longing eyes over the waters. They long to cross but can’t seem to find the ferry. They are convinced the If Only River separates them from the good life.
If only I were thinner, I’d have the good life. If only I were richer, I’d have the good life. If only the kids would come. If only the kids were gone. If only I could leave home, move home, get married, get divorced. If only my skin were clear of pimples, my calendar free of people, my profession immune to layoffs, then I would have the good life. The If Only River. This Thanksgiving, are you standing on its shore? Does it seem that the good life is always one if only away? One purchase away? One promotion away? One election, transition, or romance away?
If so, then we’ve traced your anxiety back to one of its sources. You’re in a hurry to cross the river and worried that you never will. Consequently, you work long hours, borrow more money, take on new projects, and pile on more responsibilities. Stress. Debt. Short nights. Long days. All part of the ticket cost to the land of the good life, right?
Not exactly, opined the Apostle Paul. The good life begins, not when circumstances change, but when our attitude toward them does. Look again at his antidote for anxiety. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6). Paul embedded two essential words into the verse that deserve special attention: with thanksgiving. Sprinkled among the phrases of Help me… Please give me… Won’t you show me… are two wonderful words— Thank you.
Gratitude is a mindful awareness of the benefits of life. It is the greatest of virtues. Studies have linked the emotion with a variety of positive effects. Grateful people tend to be more empathetic and forgiving of others. People who keep a gratitude journal are more likely to have a positive outlook on life. Grateful individuals demonstrate less envy, materialism and self-comparison. Thankfulness improves self-esteem, enhances relationships, quality of sleep, and longevity.
If it came in pill form, gratitude would be deemed the miracle cure. It’s no wonder, then, that, God’s anxiety therapy includes a large, delightful dollop of gratitude. Gratitude leads us off the river bank of “if only” and escorts us into the fertile valley of “already.” The anxious heart says, “Lord, if only I had this, that, or the other, I’d be ok.” The grateful heart says, “Oh, look! You’ve already given me this, that, and the other. Thank you, God.”
On Thanksgiving, as you gather around a table with friends and family, instead of looking at what you don’t have, look at your blessings. Do you see any friends? Family? Do you see any grace from God? Love of God? Do you see any gifts? Abilities or talents? Skills? As you look at your blessings, take note of what happens. Anxiety grabs his bags and slips out the back door. Worry refuses to share the heart with gratitude. One heartfelt “thank you” will suck the oxygen out of worry’s world. So say it often. Focus more on what you do have and less on what you don’t.
Years ago I lived on a houseboat that was docked on the Miami River in Miami, Florida. The level of the river would rise and fall with the tide. It rocked back and forth with the river traffic. But though the level changed and the boat rocked, it never drifted. Why? Because the boat was securely anchored. What about you? Anchor your heart to the character of God. Your boat will rock. Moods will come and go. Situations will fluctuate and change. But will you be left adrift on the Atlantic of despair? No, for you have found a contentment that endures the storm.
No more if only. It is the petri dish in which anxiety thrives. Replace your if only with already. Look what you already have. Treat each anxious thought with a grateful one and prepare yourself for a new day of joy.
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