The other day my son was stuck in some pretty intense feelings, which put him in non-relational mode. I tried the normal solutions, even encouraging him to connect with Jesus to see if he could feel some of Jesus’ peace. My good intentions were not enough. Eventually, he recovered, but I felt the weight of his struggles, so I brought my heaviness to Jesus. After soaking in the peaceful memory from a recent moment, I enjoyed Immanuel’s nearness, I asked Jesus what He wanted me to know about my son’s “stuck” moment.
At this point, I felt Jesus gently remind me that we have to practice in the good times, when joy levels are high, in order to have a stronger connection during the hard times. In this moment I felt like someone shined a bright flashlight on the path through a dark forest. “Of course!” I thought to myself. Here is a solution my husband and I often teach others–the pattern Chris and I practice on a regular basis. I realized, with some sadness, that we were not cultivating this important habit with our sons. While we often talked with Jesus together as a family, most of the times we paused to connect with Jesus were during times of difficulty. We were not doing enough to lead our sons to look and find Jesus in the good times!
I continued to interact with Jesus about this idea until a plan formed in my mind. Feeling hopeful and inspired, I stopped by the store to prepare for our new family activity. During our dinner time that evening, I presented my fun plan to my sons. I showed them their new journals. Our new plan was to embrace opportunities to interact with Jesus when things were going well and share our gratitude with Him. This exercise is referred to as Interactive Gratitude.
Interactive Gratitude is when we focus on something we are thankful to God for (hopefully from our current circumstances or recent history). To begin, we write out our gratitude starting with, “Dear God…” and go on to express words of appreciation.
If you have not practiced this exercise before, the next step is likely the one that will be unfamiliar and even feel a little strange.
After writing our gratitude towards God, we then pay attention to the thoughts that come into our minds as we ask what God’s response to us is. We then start writing from God’s perspective to us, something like, “Dear child…” or “My son/daughter…”
It was in thinking about this second step where my 7-year-old started to object. “But Mommy, I don’t know which thoughts are my thoughts and which thoughts are from God!” I explained that the good news for this step is this: It is not our job to figure out whether the thoughts are our thoughts or God’s thoughts; we simply write out the thoughts as they come to us. After we have written them down from what we sense is God’s perspective to us, we can look through and evaluate whether the thoughts are from God and whether there is some of God’s peace in the writing.
At this point, my 9-year-old spoke up asking, “But Mommy, what if the thought that comes to my mind is that I am stupid?” I answered that we would still write it down, since this is the time for writing, not figuring it out; and after we write out our thoughts, we go through and check if the content sounds like something God would say to us. Does it line up with God’s character and love? Here is when we would realize a thought like “I’m stupid” is certainly not from God.
After some simple instructions, we picked up our pens and began practicing the exercise. When we all finished writing, we shared what we had written. It was very special to hear what everyone wrote, and we could then sort out the thoughts together.
Andrew, my 7-year-old wrote the following:
“Dear Jesus, I am thankful for going to church and playing with my friend.” The response he sensed from God was, “My son, I am glad you had a good time.” This was so simple, yet so like Jesus to affirm our reality and meet my son where he was during the moment.
Matthew, my 9-year-old, wrote the following:
“Dear Jesus, thank you that it snowed!” The response was, “Dear Matthew, I enjoy watching you have fun in the snow. I wish I could be down there sledding with you.”
It was my turn, and I wrote:
“Dear Jesus, thank you for these times of talking to You together as a family, and for the idea! I find it special to see my sons excited about talking and listening to You.” The response was, “My daughter, it delights Me to see my children listening to Me together. I love your boys even more than you do, and I am with them and caring for them. I have them in the palm of My hand.”
This exercise has now become a fun family tradition we enjoy after dinner. My son Andrew has even started doing this practice on his own during breakfast time. He enjoys it that much! This practice makes such a difference in our lives. I encourage you to insert and build the habit of connecting with Jesus in the calm times, so you can find His peace during the hard times.
For more on the Interactive Gratitude and Immanuel Journaling process, I encourage you to check out the book Joyful Journey and learn more about the Loppnows at their new website, Presence and Practice. We consider connecting with Immanuel a trainable skill, so this practice is a relational skill woven through our trainings and events. A little practice goes a long way!