You've had a great day. The kids were all well-behaved. The sun was shining. The bills were paid. Dinner was appreciated by all. Bedtime went smoothly, and now it's time to say your personal prayers. On these days, rare as they are, it is so easy to give gratitude to God for all that is good.
But what about the other days? When it's raining and you didn't sleep and the kids are throwing up. You fear the electricity will be shut off, and your head is killing you. When you finally change the last set of linens and get the poor little kids to bed, you wait for the other shoe to drop. What about those prayers? Do they consist of a lot of unanswerable questions like "Oh, why me?" or "When will things get better?" or, sadly, "Have you forgotten about me?" Perhaps you just tell yourself you'll pray again when things get better?
When things go awry, and they always will from time to time, do you dig to find out the reason? Do you search for the treasures that are buried in those holes? Do you find things to be thankful for regardless?
Those are the secret weapons to unconditional joy.
It is, however, easier in concept than practice. It takes time to develop the ability to see miracles in the downfalls. But here is how to begin and the upside to practicing this all but lost art:
1. Know that God loves you.
You love your family. You want to see them learn, even when that learning causes pain or discomfort. God is your eternal father. He wants the same for you. Never, ever forget that. He doesn't punish, but he does allow consequences and trials so we learn the things that are necessary for us to return to him. When we experience "growing pains," we need to stop and remember that he loves us, and whatever he gives us is for our own good. If you don't have this knowledge, pray for it.
2. We have been given tools.
He has not left us here unarmed and incapable of enduring our trials. He has given us special tools that we have the responsibility to pull out and use when times get tough. Among them — the scriptures, personal conversations through prayer, the Holy Ghost, and lots of angels we call friends, family and professionals.
3. Keep a journal of trials and their lessons.
I have entries in my journals that I read from time to time when I forget the blessings that come directly from trials and enduring them. Times when I thought to myself, in my spiritual immaturity, "What in the world is going on?" and then realized the blessings of a particular trial. Sometimes it is a matter of the darkness before the light — learning patience and God's timetable. Sometimes it is simply the blessing of knowing I lived through the pain without bitterness. Other times, it is a very clear and tangible need fulfilled. I have learned that it isn't just one thing we get from them. It is a myriad of different blessings depending on how we endure. If you journalize your trials and then go back and fill in the blessings, you will be amazed at how you have grown or been blessed.
Finding similar stories in the scriptures and comparing them, or likening them, to your own life will show you how much you have in common with others and will also give you examples on how to cope. The Bible is full of stories of disciples who have been tried and blessed.
5. Understand that it is not necessarily something you did wrong.
Many people want to point fingers and tell you that if you had only done this or that differently. Sometimes the person pointing the finger is you. We want to pinpoint some little thing that we did so that we can fix it and then everything will go back to normal, whatever that may be. I have heard people say things directly to me, "If you had only done this, God would not be putting you through this." Wow! I don't contend with them, but rather pray that they will learn, as I have, that sometimes the trials are for our growth and not due to some shortcoming on our part. God loves each of us enough to customize trials for us so that we learn exactly what we need to in order to be able to return to him and be worthy to stand in his presence. One person said, "If something is amiss in your life, examine what you are doing wrong." Sometimes we bring on our own problems. But sometimes, it is just a matter of growing which makes it all the more important that we have gratitude for the trials.
6. Prayers of thanksgiving.
I have learned to thank God for the trials (well, most days) that he gives me or that I give myself because it is through them that I learn the things I need to learn. Patience, gratitude, the importance of constant prayer and study, unconditional and non-judgmental love. The things that will eventually make me more Christ like. Here are more benefits for accepting trials as part of our growth.
In all things, give gratitude to the Lord. All things. Sunshine and rain. Sickness and health. Love and emptiness. Once you are able to do this, life makes so much more sense.