There was a time when I thought I'd always be thankful and charmed by every single thing about my husband, Robb. When we were in our early 20s, just out of college and into our brand-new life together, our dreams were big and our love was bigger. But it didn't take long before we settled into a deep groove of careers, minivans, diapers and bedtimes. Our dinner conversations were replaced by negotiations with toddlers to "please just take two more bites." We had the very family we knew we had wanted — yet we started to slip away from each other.
The quirks I once found so charming became irritations that were hardly amusing. Maybe we got too familiar, or maybe we were just too tired to appreciate each other anymore. Somewhere along the way, ungratefulness became the silent, bitter third partner in our marriage.
Ungratefulness creeps in silently. It masks itself as a helpful critic who sees quickly how things could change or improve, and it squelches any joy and thankfulness for the way things are. Robb and I had been married for seven or eight years when I began to recognize an ugliness in me: that root of ungratefulness. I needed to change my thinking; I needed a new discipline. I bought a journal, and I began to list things for which I was thankful. And I chose one particular genre: Robb.
Each day for two years, I identified something to be thankful for, and I wrote it on a new page in the journal. This everyday decision proved to be especially effective, and particularly challenging, during our rough days of disconnectedness. Sometimes I had to look hard for things I appreciated about Robb, but as I trained myself to look for these things, they appeared more easily. Here are some entries from my journal:
- July 15, 2008: I am thankful for Robb's playfulness, for the joy he brings to our family.
- March 16, 2009: I am sick in bed. Robb brought me something to drink and told me he misses his favorite friend.
- Dec. 16, 2009: Robb folded all the laundry tonight. Loads and loads.
- July 9, 2010: We leave for Mexico in the morning. I am thankful to run away with this man — happy 10 years to us!
I wrapped the journal with glittery paper and wire-edged ribbon. I gave it to Robb on that trip to Mexico, our second honeymoon where we fell in love again. What I couldn't know on that honeymoon is that our lifetime together had become a ticking clock that was quickly and unavoidably winding down.
Just six months later, two days before Christmas, Robb died in my arms. He was sick for only 12 hours, and his spirit slipped through my fingers as I tried to save his life before the paramedics could arrive. In the course of only one day, my preschoolers were fatherless and I was a 31-year-old widow. If I had waited six months longer, Robb never would have seen my words, my practice of thankfulness. He never would have known that I noticed. I gave it to him just in time. And now the journal of gratitude had become mine again, this daily log of the moments that made us who we were.
I'm no theologian, but I think a spiritual discipline simply comes down to wanting to be better and taking small steps to claim that growth. Maybe it's not about training for your best time on a marathon. Maybe it's about taking a walk today and tomorrow and the next day, until taking a walk every day becomes natural.
What does gratitude look like in your home, in your relationship with the one whom God has given to you? Begin today to look for the positive qualities in your husband and the story you're living together. Think of ways to show him — and to remind yourself — that you are thankful for this life you've made with each other. And please, make sure you tell him. Your days together are numbered. Thankfulness makes them count.Tricia Lott Williford is a freelance editor, a stay-at-home mom and the author of And Life Comes Back.