“Tell me three things you are thankful for.”
Jordan Watson sat across from me and a couple of other girls sprawled across her living room floor. We had been sitting there for a couple of hours, talking, but the conversation had become pretty dark. We had all found ourselves in the same sort of uncomfortable place in life, a place of uncertainty and doubt. And that’s when she said it, “Tell me three things you are thankful for.”
It was not a question, it was a command. And it was incredibly annoying. “Nothing, absolutely nothing,” I wanted to respond. I was so full of bitterness. Life sucked right now, we were literally just talking about how much life sucked. But before I could get it out of my mouth, my answer changed.
“Nothing. Well… maybe the flowers.”
Winter was fading away, and all the trees were blooming in my neighborhood. Atlanta was becoming a sunny fairyland, and I was slowly being surrounded by leafy greens and little bright petals. I didn’t realize until Jordan forced me to admit it, but I was deeply grateful for the beauty of the soft flowers growing on the trees by my street. I didn’t list anything else, just the flowers. It was all I could think of, and it was all that I needed. That small reflection of thankfulness made all the negative thoughts I was swimming in a couple moments ago seem so insignificant.
Jordan understands this power of thankfulness. She has found herself in one of the most challenging seasons of her life. Every day is a struggle, a battle to feel alive, to find joy or peace, and her choice of weapon is thankfulness. I understand how weak that sounds, almost patronizing and unrealistic. A position of gratitude is the last place I want to be when I am fighting for my life.
Crystal and I sat down with Jordan recently to talk to her about why this is exact posture of thankfulness is what is keeping her grounded to reality.
Victoria: You’ve been going through a rough season in your life, yet you seem to be pretty intentional about practicing thankfulness everyday. Why do you feel the need to be intentional about thankfulness?
Jordan: When I claim to be thankful for something, in the present moment, I know that is true. It’s something that I can depend on. It’s almost a meditative state of mind. I feel the need to do that because my life has been hard. I’m in a stage of grief right now, and being thankful through pain gives me a spark of joy, it gives me a spark of life, every once in awhile. And I’ve been told that thankfulness is my most powerful weapon. For some reason I see myself as a warrior because I know I’ve endured a lot. Thankfulness is a symbol for me as a weapon and a tool, something I can hold onto and use.
Victoria: What do you do when you find it too difficult to be thankful?
Jordan: I go into a place of lament. I get into my journal and talk about how I am honestly feeling. It’s sometimes disgusting, gross, sad, hard, angry, things you wouldn’t want many people to read because it’s how you really feel. It’s how your subconscious feels. So when I can’t feel thankful, I really enter into what I’m feeling. I’ll use as many pages as I want and then go to a new feeling and write pages about that. It’s almost like I reach this point of peace again, and through that I do usually come to a place of thankfulness.
…There are certain people that I can call, like my sisters. I kind of learned through them that verbally processing things is so important. I will talk out loud to God. I sound crazy sometimes, expressing conflicts with myself. I will literally work through an issue out loud as I pace around my room.
Jordan: When I was young, I was always sensitive, emotional, and vulnerable. I have never had issues expressing what I’m feeling, so that kind of scared my parents. One thing my mom always did to help me was to say, “Okay stop. What are three things you’re thankful for,” and I didn’t appreciate it that much as a kid. I didn’t like being forced into saying these things, but once I got to the second one I would get this giggle and start feeling better.
It would be something so small, but it would work. It would redirect my brain. I was really good at focusing on pain, and I think I still am. I like what you said earlier about thankfulness being a source of grounding, because it’s a whole new world to learn how to redirect your brain… because I am here, but I can easily leave and check out. I do lose the good moments, the grass, air, water, the other people around us. I don’t notice any of that. I’m just sitting here escaping and thinking about something that’s hurting.
Crystal: I’m reminded of the verse 1 Thesselonians 5:18, “Pray without ceasing, give thanks in ever circumstance.”
I think its amazing that the Lord knows how healthy thankfulness is for our bodies. Its such a spiritual practice. its a way of connecting with yourself, your surroundings, and the creator. Thankfulness is your spiritual practice and weapon.
Victoria: What would you say to someone who’s finding it difficult to find anything to be thankful for?
Jordan: Start with your breath. First really feel the sensation of breathing in and out. It’s kind of a form of meditation. but start to feel the sensations of your breath and your body. Focus on that one thing. Be gentle with yourself. I think the person who beats us up the most is ourselves. To someone who’s having difficulty being thankful, start telling yourself it’s okay. Give yourself the freedom to feel the emotions that you are feeling.
-Written by Victoria Ward
-Photos by Crystal Anne Downs