By Emily Gross
It is day two on the Appalachian Trail. The supposedly sunny disposition of Northern Georgia has traded its warmth for icy rain and persistent, biting winds. We trek uphill, boots skating on slippery rocks and backs aching from our child-size packs. My lungs cry for a deep breath in the high elevation which only increases with every step. It will all be worth it once we reach the top I remind myself, fantasizing about the view. As I spring my legs up one last steep rock, I stumble onto the lookout point only to see thick, white fog blanketing the so called “breathtaking view.”
As we plop down in the mud, frizzy-haired and hungry, I want nothing more than to complain. Four miles still stretch between us and the campsite, the forecast predicts the addition of thunder and lightning in about an hour, and my snacks are quickly dwindling. But as I glance at the other drenched women surrounding me, I can’t help but crack a smile.
Here we are. Just a handful of adventurous college students braving the great outdoors. We were blessed with a problem-free, “hakuna matata” road trip down to Georgia filled with laughter and Five Guys burgers and fries. We got to spend our first night in a gorgeous cabin belonging to the poster-couple for southern hospitality. Our first night on the trail consisted of bonding with other hikers around the campfire over testimonies and hot cocoa. And even though this moment was not ideal, just acknowledging all the good that God had provided on this trip made the rain and fog seem a little less bleak.
Real talk. Life can be hard. It throws you down mountains and then forces you to climb back up them, with bruises on your shins and branches in your hair. And in these moments, you’re given a choice of how you want to react. As hard as it is to admit, I often make the wrong one. I focus on how weak I am, how much of a failure I must be to be sitting once again at the bottom, and these thoughts only contribute to my weary state. And guess what? The devil loves nothing more than when we are the ones beating ourselves up. All he has to do is sit back, relax, and watch the pieces continue to crumble. But when we choose gratitude, everything changes. It allows us—not only in the joy-filled times—but in the midst of suffering, to see our life through the lens of Christ. We can look at sin as a learning experience, rather than a black hole of misery. We can understand that we are more than the sum of our transgressions because we belong to a forgiving Father. We can use these perspectives to fuel the rejection of sin.
And that, my friends, is the key to joy.
It’s one thing to get all gushy talking about how beautiful and awesome gratitude is, but it’s a completely different thing to live it out. And, soup-rise, surprise! Living with an attitude of gratitude is pretty dang hard. So as a challenge of action, really pray these words of Psalm 51 every day, and when you finish, write down at least one thing each day that you are grateful to God for.
“Create in me a pure heart, O God.”
Create like a potter working with clay a heart that seeks to see the world through Your eyes, using gratitude. Pure means to be through and through created with one substance, so ask the Lord to let that one thing be Him. This can be a scary prayer, asking the Lord to seize your heart and change it so that it matches His, but it is a commitment that reaps the greatest rewards.
“Renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
To be steadfast means to be resolutely or dutifully firm or unwavering. It is not just something that we should change our mind about day in and day out; this is the truth and the platform of our very beings. If God decided one day to waver on his love for us, he would not have died on that cross. He was all in and we must be too.
“Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.”
Sometimes we need to be restored to joy, because when we sin, we are removed from the joy of the Lord’s freedom; we need constant sustainment, because of our fallen nature, to remain in the Lord’s joy. A grateful spirit can aid in that willingness.
What are you grateful for in your life? Comment below!