My inner Grinch snuck up on me again. He likes to surprise me with a visit towards the end of the year, peeking over the corners of shiny family Christmas cards, and winking at me from amid the numbers in the Christmas budget that will never add up. He gleefully nudges me to be jealous and discontented–rather than delighted and inspired–by the successes, blessings, and talents of others. His most clever and diabolical trick, however, is making me forget about my successes, blessings and talents.
He’s a mean one, Mr. Grinch.
So much of living our faith has to do with rebuking our thoughts with the truth. We have to learn how to capture inappropriate thoughts and emotions, and then talk ourselves back to a right heart. And a right heart is a grateful, trusting heart. Ugly, unbidden thoughts and feelings themselves aren’t the sin; it is when we dwell on them that is the problem. As a wise priest once explained to me, growing in holiness means that we just get faster at tossing the bad thoughts out with the trash.
Here are five battle-tested tips to shut down your own inner Grinch and nurture a steadfast heart of gratitude. I pray that these ideas are as much a help to you as they are to me!
Tape this quote to your fridge, bathroom mirror, or the top of your computer screen if you have to. Facebook, Christmas cards, and so many of our social interactions simply show us other people’s highlight reels. We don’t have the full story of anyone’s life but our own. Highlight reels are not bad. God can use them to delight and inspire others! But Satan and his sly little helper, your inner Grinch, love, love, love to tempt us to despair about anything and everything. The thing is, because we have been redeemed by Christ, we can never despair. It’s not in keeping with the truth. And when we do despair about something, it means that we have lost the right perspective.
An old friend of mine recorded a great song a few years ago that helped me develop a little prayer that helps me when I am down. In the chorus, the singers ask, ‘Can I borrow your smile?”
Whenever the good fortunes or successes of another bring a little pang of jealousy, I immediately ask God if I can “borrow” His smile of joy in that person’s joy. It takes some discipline, for sure! The key is to make your desire to have a right heart be your strongest thought–no matter what ugly emotions and thoughts come to mind initially. And you have to let that holy desire for a right heart manifest itself in your words and actions accordingly. A simple, “I’m happy for them!” is not insincere if you desire to truly feel that way for love of our Lord, despite any lingering negative feelings.
Trust that God will guide you and your family to where He wants you, in major things and in small things too. Whether it’s your personal fitness, a new job, or getting on top of housework, when you need to make a change He will work all things together for you to move in that direction. It is helpful for me to remind myself that God’s idea of “need” and “want” is always going to be in favor of the needs of my soul, rather than my body or state in life. In that light, it is also helpful to ponder the idea that if we truly needed something not currently in our possession (or skill set or ability), then we would already have it.
God uses others to nudge us in new directions or different directions sometimes. He has done so many times for me! The things we admire in others are often things that we desire for ourselves. Find a time and place where you can dispose your heart correctly, and gently examine your life. What are those areas where a little jealousy or discontentment may be alerting you to some necessary or helpful changes? Better yet, take a list of ideas or topics for discussion to your husband, and schedule a prayerful date or time away to get his opinion on things and talk through the list.
Yes, more spiritual borrowing advice here! Mother Teresa had a deep devotion to Mary. Often throughout the day, Mother Teresa would offer up this short prayer: “Mary, lend me your heart!” I have received much grace through praying this prayer. When I am aware in some moment that my heart is not where it should be, I ask Mary to lend me her heart. And time after time, after praying that prayer I am able to live whatever virtue I most need in that moment.
I wish each of you full hearts and abundant blessings this Advent!