One of the biggest attacks from 2020 has been directed at our sense of hope. How can you be hopeful and thankful when there is so much unrest and uncertainty seemingly all around? JoAnne Baldwin, marketer at PitchBook and marketing co-director for 4word: Seattle, writes candidly about how the COVID-19 outbreak opened her eyes to the importance of a thankful heart, even when gratitude seems like the least likely response.
The silence in my empty condo was crushing. Buses had been running with barely any passengers for days, downtown Seattle was eerily quiet. I returned home from work with an unsettledness that felt foreign and unwelcome. I scurried to Trader Joe’s and came back with more frozen foods than I’d purchased in a year’s time. I felt really alone. Fear can make uncertainty feel exponentially more weighty, and combined with an isolation that you didn’t ask for (or plan for), this evening in mid-March had me asking what to do and where God was in the onset of COVID-19 in the U.S.. In the next 24 hours, I packed things up and left, fleeing the city to find comfort and safety in the arms of my parents and in a state less populated.
I never thought I’d be back living with Mom and Dad in my mid-thirties. The shift in location, pace, even in my daily interactions was significant. The first month home certainly wasn’t easy for any of us, but I responded in a way that was completely opposite to how I’d been raised and how I’d been functioning up to that point, foregoing a thankful heart, opting to shrink inward rather than look out and notice all that I’d been blessed with, despite the state of the world around us. I tried to fend for myself, like I was trying to do when I was back in Washington, and it served no one well.
Looking back, this reaction was human, it was natural, but it’s not what we’re called to as believers. We serve a Savior who died for us to give us freedom, a hope, and a joy in knowing the battle is already won and we are called to be lights in this world.
A thankful heart gives us that hope, and fuels us with that message.
Within a couple of months of adjusting to life with my parents, I began recognizing that there was something missing—my propensity to notice God’s hand in little and big things had faded. In what had become rare moment in Scripture, I was struck with Paul’s words for the Colossians: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” I was neglecting my Lord, my Savior, and there was no overflow of anything, much less thankfulness. I decided something needed to change. Following a clarifying conversation with a friend who had been searching for a job for a long time who was living in uncertainty, far from her family, and in the world’s estimation, adrift, she mentioned to me she had been taking time daily to record what she was thankful for.
My first response was, ‘I’ve done those gratitude journals before, I don’t need to do that.’ She challenged me to think about how I could begin being more deliberate in noticing the bright spots and the reasons to celebrate and express gratefulness, regardless of whether it was in a journal or not. I’m thankful for her persistence; the return to a rhythm of grace and a thankful heart has changed my attitude drastically.
Now, months later, I’m realizing a couple of things about a positive attitude and how that deeply correlates with a thankful heart:
- Thankfulness takes us on a journey of awareness. Expressing gratitude demands we step back, see with a new lens. We must slow down enough to notice what is worth celebrating, recognizing, praising our Father for. If we’ve created a world where we’re in control of every aspect, not asking for direction from others, for discernment from God, ‘thank you’ fades from our vernacular. We risk assuming that we don’t need others and we deny that every good and perfect gift is from Heaven.
- When things get difficult, gratefulness becomes even more important, and counter cultural too – why lift your hands in thankfulness when things aren’t going your way, or life is hard? Because we serve a God who will never abandon us, gives us everything we need, and knows the long game. A thankful heart is a hopeful heart. In the same way that a prayerful posture welcomes God to take control (or more realistically, return to the position He already is sitting in), thankfulness is an active acknowledgement that any provision we receive is from God – not of our own doing, but out of his great love and care for us.
- Thankfulness transforms relationships. When Paul wrote to the many churches he visited in Asia Minor, he spoke of his constant prayer for them, and mentioned time and time again how crucial it was to surrender his fellow believers to God. How can we use thankfulness and the hope in God’s ever present provision and protection to undergird our friendships, relationships with coworkers, and with family members?
Is the ‘be thankful and joyful no matter the circumstance’ conundrum solved with a single moment of clarity? By no means. But in recognizing this important reminder that we have control over how we respond to what happens in life, we have a responsibility to see the good around us. What are you thankful for today?
JoAnne Baldwin is a Northwest-raised, Pepperdine grad, outdoor enthusiast, multi-sport athlete, avid home chef, and traveler. During the day, you can find her loving her job as a marketer at PitchBook, a data provider for the capital markets. She leads a team developing programs to influence product adoption and expand existing licenses, aiming to delight PitchBook customers every day.
Throughout her life, JoAnne has been shaped by the positive mentors and peers who demonstrate integrity and intentionality. Her confidence is founded in knowing that all things come from God and it is an honor and responsibility to give generously and love others well. She aims both personally and professionally to be an encouragement to those around her.